The Impact of 3D Printing in the Medical and Aviation Industry

Due up again in October is the second installment of the Medical Device Technology Exchange (MDTX) in San Diego California.  The MDTX brings some of the world’s sharpest minds across different disciplines of devices, engineering and technological innovation in the medical industry, with these innovations changing the face of global medical advancements and breakthroughs.

One of the main features at this year event will focus on 3D printing and how it is revolutionizing the medical device industry. Experts will be there who have been working with 3D printing development for medical applications for a decade, around the time that the general public first became aware of the technology. Discussions and guest speakers will focus on prototyping and production parts from robotics to surgical tools, lab equipment, to anatomical references and drug delivery systems, to name just a few.

While the initial buzz and fever that hit the marketplace a decade ago seem to have faded from the public psyche, the medical industry lost no time in jumping straight into heavy research and development and was one of the earliest adopters of not just prototyping but actual production.  One of the 3D printings strengths is in the production of organic shapes, shapes that can contour to a patient’s anatomy. Plus 3D printing is ideal in the making of complex and tiny features that are prominent in medical tools and dentistry.

3D Printing Validation

This year’s event will focus on as many outsiders as insiders as the industry looks to gain more of an understanding with industry standards where conventional manufacturing is ingrained into law especially in the United States. A push for reform is needed to achieve more validation for 3D printing, but industry standards are somewhat behind with material traceability and sterilization validation. So as well as showcasing all the developments in the industry over the past 12 months, this is also a chance to reach out to those who may not be aware of the endless limitations that 3D printing is becoming capable of.

DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering)

The Highlight of this year’s event.

  • DMLS is already moving the goalposts of medical devices. In conjunction with the latest software, this machine is capable of developing implants for humans as it matches organic shapes that identically match the patient’s bone structure and by implanting the patients DNA it helps to promote bone growth.
  • DMLS is also capable of detailed production of metal components and parts such as surgical jaws.
  • The industry is very focused on the 3D element and already is at a kind of inflection point where there is a competitive edge to new developments and products which will also be a focal point throughout MDTX.
  • The message of the event will be loud and clear it is an opportunity for speakers to communicate with directly with the engineers and developers to help guide them to identifying gaps in the market in parts and pieces that are new candidates for the use of 3D printing.

So for attendees of MDTX not connected to the medical industry, this ever-growing event is a solid knowledge base and resource to garner a better understanding of what is literally around the corner for a new wave of medical technological advancements and news.  With so much news out in the public and online domain regarding 3D printing, the event looks to simplify and make it understandable.

We move across industries now to aviation where the demand for air travel will be double today’s demand by 2035, and 3D printing is ready to fill the void or at least large parts of it.  Here we take a look at GE and the release of their ground-breaking Advance Turbo Prop engine with 3D parts.

3D printing is on the verge of changing the aviation world like Facebook changed the social media world. I for one know how change can happen and happen fast. A little over ten years ago I was still wondering what my classmates had gone on to do with their lives, what they looked like, and where did they live now.  Then I registered with a company called Facebook online and my life changed.

Suddenly there I was in contact with 30 of them knowing everything that had happened to them in the last 15 to 20 years and catching up as if we had never been apart. The transformation was incalculable, and the status quo of writing a letter or sending a postcard had gone in a brief space of time. Something very similar to that is happening under our noses in the aviation industry, and this disruption to the status quo is going to save billions of dollars and reduce an enormous amount of carbon emissions when we need it most.

The ‘Advanced Turboprop’ gets lift-off

From the GE plant in Lynn, USA all the way to Prague in the Czech Republic for testing.  GE made a breakthrough that will have traditional manufacturing quaking in their boots and designers, engineers and creators jumping for joy.

The assignment: Getting ready to fire up GE’s first 3D printed commercial aircraft engine. The inaugural test was on what in years to come could be a multi-billion $ business for GE and other aviation protagonists who are well into development stages themselves on various parts like Airbus and Boeing.

The final sensors went onto the engine, known as ‘Advanced Turboprop’, and on a cold, harsh day surrounded by snow on the outskirts of Prague a piece of aviation history was made, maybe not quite to the magnitude of Orville and Wilbur Wright in the 1900’s but a breakthrough that could change the industry permanently.

The stand-out moment was to have a working engine. Now having the ability to move on from design and development to the next phase of the program with the ultimate goal to achieve certification for passenger flight was profound.

A Global Effort

This was indeed a coming together of nations, a global event in more ways than one.  With over 400 GE engineers, designers and wide-ranging array of experts in differing fields such as materials and component in the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany and the US to name a few had worked tirelessly for over 24 months to make this a reality with more than one third of the engine in the ATP being made from advanced alloys from 3D printing also.

Manufacturing will never be the same

This project allowed the team to use new technologies for the very first time.  The most exciting and iconic information to come out of this test and as many of the public as possible should know about is that over 850 separate components that would have been used using traditional manufacturing techniques were condensed to only 12!

That is a staggering statistic in its own right but add to that 3D printing managed to cut almost 100lbs off the weight of the engine making it considerably more fuel efficient.  Estimations are a 20 percent saving on fuel consumption and extra 10 percent more power. If the list seems like it cannot get any longer, maintenance is also significantly reduced as with new software and technology, the parts of the engine will tell you when they need maintenance.

In total GE plans to build 12 ATP vehicles.  Further test will be taking place in pre-arranged cells in various locations in Europe and Canada over the course of the next two years. New battery testing is to begin in earnest to ensure they gain the necessary government certification to clear them for passenger flight. The tests will include varying altitude testing and high-vibration and a full range of performance management, all due to take place in the last quarter of this year.

Conclusion

It was a moment of magic as the engineers watched on their large screens from a small control room on the runway in Prague a new chapter in the book of Aviation history was turned. In a world full of problems with pollution and waste, those few men in that small control room may have just embarked on a formula that will be taken on board by all manufacturers as they are being done in the aviation and medical industry, to not only help us in flight and organs but help our future generations to have a healthy planet to co-exist on.

Author Bio:

Tim Blaine is an avid tech blogger, traveler, and sports enthusiast, who likes to share his tech knowledge. He is associated with Pantherdata who are stockists and suppliers of Brother tn-2150 genuine toner and specializes in 3D printing in Australia.