3D Printing Bioresorbable Polymers for Medical Devices
“Why aren’t you using additive manufacturing to make your medical devices?” Scott Taylor, Chief Technology Officer at Poly-Med Inc. (Anderson, SC), a supplier of bioresorbable polymers, posed that question to conference attendees at the recent co-located Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West and PLASTEC West event in Anaheim, CA. Armed with two compelling case studies, he went on to explain why they should.
“I hear your concerns,” acknowledged Taylor. “The production cost is high, you can’t make enough product, the parts aren’t sufficiently strong or maybe a mechanical feature is preventing you from using additive manufacturing. Put all that together and you’re liable to say, ‘3D printing isn’t ready for prime time,’” said Taylor. He then invited attendees to reconsider that assumption by describing two medical device applications where Poly-Med played a role.
The concept of a device with a mesh component that had added reinforcement around its periphery had been bouncing around for a few years, but conventional manufacturing technologies were unable to satisfactorily produce the part. The material is thermally sensitive, so conventional molding could not be used, and attachment techniques were tricky because the mesh is very delicate, explained Taylor. Attaching the reinforcement material was “basically a hand-work process, requiring multiple manufacturing steps,” said Taylor. There were concerns about quality, because of the manual assembly process, but also scale, “since we didn’t want a roomful of 200 people assembling the product.” Additive manufacturing solved the problem, and it did so by negating two of the oft-cited drawbacks mentioned above: Excessive cost and minimal throughput.