3D printing in medical technology
The characteristics of the medical technology sector (MedTech) align very well with the capabilities offered by 3D printing (Additive Manufacturing). Customer specific solutions and innovations are an every day theme. Reality is that quite some MedTech companies recognize the potential 3D printing could have, but find it hard to understand what it could mean for them. Inspired by this article we’ll share our experiences on how to get started with 3D printing in MedTech.
In general the application of 3D printing in a company can impact two major pillars: Creating a better product or disrupting your supply chain. Both have in common that it eventually enhances your competitive advantage, increase revenue, decrease cost, enter new business areas etc.
Benefits of 3D printing in MedTech
Your product is the end result of all of your efforts towards your customers. Based on your product they will determine if your company offers something valuable. Therefore it is very important to understand how 3D printing can increase your customer satisfaction. So how can you use 3D printing to create better products?
1) It enables for a “Lean startup”-approach.
Instead of years of development and investing a lot of time and money in making injection molds you can now develop your product iteratively, together with your customers. The real strength here is that in developing a product that your customers want. Instead of developing a product for multiple years and hoping your customer will use it, you can now start with launch a first product after months to a small group of customers. This gives you the ability to listen to them, learn from them and iterate again. It will save you time, money and make sure you make the right product.
2) The ability to make customized products.
We always call our market one size fits nobody. And of course that’s not always the case, and there are enough example where we standardize measurements (S,M,L,XL etc). But the reality is that by standardization of measurements it most likely will not fit you. Just think about your shoes, chances are likely that the shoes you want do not feel that comfortable because it’s just not made for you. We foresee a disruption by 3D scanning your foot and custom producing your shoe, just like 3Dshoes.com. Signs are there that big brands are taking the first steps as well, as you can see in our article on the Adidas Speedfactory.
The MedTech industry is all about individuals, therefore we predict that this market will be disrupted on various fields. A great example are hearing aids. Where a couple of years ago all of the devices where manufacturing in a labor intense 10 step process, nowadays 95% of the devices are made in a mostly digital 4 step process. 3D scanning, digital preparation and 3D printing are fundamental in this market. We can imagine quite some companies did not see this coming and woke up to an ugly truth.
3) Creating complex products.
As most likely everyone knows these days 3D printing gives your company the ability to produce very complex shapes. And unlike other technologies the complexity does not make it more costly. This advantage is being used in a wide variety of fields already. One of the great examples is a part of a skull that has been 3D printed in titanium and is implanted in a human. Again with a 3D image the part of the skull has been digitally modelled, the model has been made porous through a structure called lattice. This is a very open structure that still is able to carry a lot of load. The end result is a part that fits perfectly to the patients skull and is adopted by the body faster through the open structure.
How to get started yourself?
Quite some organizations struggle with defining the right strategy for 3D printing for their company. To visually what works best in our experience we’ve drafted the graph below. The graph has 2 axis. The horizontal axis is the amount of change in your Supply Chain, and the second axis is the amount of change in your Product. Eventually ofcourse you want to get the most out of every technology and end up at the green star.
Build trust in your organization
The reality is that 3D printing can be quite disruptive for you company model, but it needs your teams to adopt it. Your people need to gain confidence in that 3D printing can create industrial level products. They need to adjust their mindset towards Design for Additive Manufacturing. Where they’re currently used to think in subtractive technologies like milling. But it doesn’t stop with your engineers. Your marketing, your business development, your purchasing, your warehouse. They all need to start understanding the impact 3D printing can have on your KPIs. Only with a multidisciplinary team like this you can create new business models like described above.
Where to start?
It’s boring, but you should start with not changing your product or your supply chain. Start by internally optimizing your production with things like tools, jiggs and fixtures. Develop an accelerator program for 3D printing to build awareness, skills and first applications and start experimenting. Just like a baby needs to crawl first before it start walking, your team needs to play with the various technologies before they can successfully start applying it in end use parts.