Thanks to a half-million dollar Grand Rapids SmartZone grant, Grand Valley State University’s applied Medical Device Institute (aMDI) now houses groundbreaking 3D printing technology from Carbon Inc., a Silicon Valley-based digital 3D manufacturing company. The 3D printer will make it possible for student and faculty researchers, as well as medical and manufacturing professionals, to apply 3D print technology to medical device manufacturing.
“3D printers are now able to print with properties where you can use the product right off the machine at a volume that makes it cost competitive,” says Brent M. Nowak, Ph.D., aDMI executive director. “While the technology has been around for 20 to 30 years, it’s evolving to the point that you can use it as another tool in your manufacturing toolbox.”
The aDMI’s Carbon 3D printer will be used to manufacture medical devices. Now that medical grade materials can be used for the process, Nowak explains that 3D printing offers capabilities that CNC and injection molding cannot, specifically the ability to manufacture very complex or very small parts with individually customizable features and precise geometries that are extremely difficult, costly, and time-consuming to create using traditional manufacturing technologies.
“The 3D printer can create parts to fit a particular patient with an injury or surgery … and time to market is important,” Nowak says. “That’s why we are researching 3D printing of medical devices.”
More than a dozen graduate and undergraduate students from Grand Valley’s Seymour and Esther Padnos College of Engineering and Computing, as well as faculty, will join the aMDI applied research team. Another collaborator in the project, MediSurge, handles all aspects of medical device development from engineering and manufacturing through sterilization, warehousing, and distribution. With this experience backing them up, students and faculty doing research at aDMI will receive the guidance and feedback that makes their work relevant to the real-world manufacturing segment.
“Students will be pursuing all different aspects: materials properties science, computer science, production, etc.,” Nowak says. “Our students are talking to leaders in the field, working side-by-side with real world engineers. The program will also tie them in with faculty that have the academic and real-world experience in those areas.”
Among the GVSU students involved in the project, Aldo Fanelli is in GVSU’s biomedical engineering master’s program. He is solving the anisotropic issues that printing in layers can have on reducing uniform strength throughout printed parts when force is applied from different orientations. Undergrad Noah Keefer is researching how to reduce costs in the 3D manufacturing process by maximizing density, i.e., printing more parts simultaneously. An undergraduate product designer, Genevieve Wisby, is looking at how 3D printing can push the current limits of modeling and design.
“Using 3D, you can do very organic, biologic-looking designs, rather than parts with rectangular coordinates. You can print anything, parts within parts. You can take old designs, that when manufactured using traditional methods, required five parts, and redesign them into one component,” Nowak says. “It’s marvelous. You don’t have to assemble, inspect five different components, come up with screw or bolt patterns for fastening the parts together. And, you don’t have to worry about leaks.”
Located in Grand Valley’s Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, aMDI’s Carbon 3D printer makes GVSU the sixth university in the nation with the technology on campus — the other five are on the East or West Coast.
“This shows that West Michigan and Grand Rapids look at novel ways to bring in the latest technologies and this speaks to the character of West Michigan,” Nowak says. “This program is going to attract new companies to the region and impact our whole economy. It goes to show what we can do here in Michigan — and I am really proud of what we can do here in Grand Rapids.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Grand Valley State University aDMI