Lung Cancer Treatment: 3D Printing Molds for Personalized Airway Stents

Australian scientists are working to improve medical devices for lung cancer treatment, sharing the outcome of their recent study in ‘Incorporating Chemotherapeutic Drug into a Personalizable Silicone Airway Stent for the Treatment of Lung Cancer and Tracheobronchomalacia.’

With a focus on relieving serious symptoms like central airway obstruction (CAO), the research team experimented with 3D printing molds to produce drug-eluting personalized airway stents, incorporated with chemotherapy drugs like Paclitaxel that inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

Interior view of current Y-stents used today, including the metallic Wallstent™ [A] and the Novatech® Dumon™ silicone stent [B] used in many CAO treatments, which do not correlate well with unique patient airway geometries [C].

Because diseases like lung cancer may leave patients struggling to breathe, pharmaceutical treatments and the use of effective devices can be critical to the quality of their lives—and even saving them in some cases. The researchers note that there are challenges with airway stents being used today due to a lack of personalization for patients, resulting in airway stent therapy that is often not effective. There may be other issues too, such as stent migration cased by improper fit.

“Unfortunately, airway stents have not developed, in large due to low relative prevalence of surgery and poor outcomes, since the release of Montgomery and Dumon stents during 1965 and 1989 respectively, despite leaps in 3D imaging and drug release technologies,” explain the researchers.

Drug-eluting stents offer potential in eliminating toxicity in delivery, as well as offering much-needed customizations for patients for better fit—reaping the rewards of one of the greatest benefits of 3D printing for the medical arena today with patient-specific treatment rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ premise for everyone. These benefits are heavily evidenced today in areas like prosthetics, heart valves, bio-active patches, and more.

Concentrations used during testing of drug elution from silicone stent materials.

Paclitaxel was added to the silicone molds, leaving the team of researchers to then perform a detailed assay on the Beas-2B cells derived from healthy patients and H23 adenocarcinoma cells derived from nonsmall cell lung cancer patients. The drug was insoluble in PBS, while ‘highly soluble in ethanol.’

Difference (f1) and Similarity (f2) factors used to determine the significance of the difference between release rates of paclitaxel concentrations and formulation methods in cured silicone coupons.

Variances in release rates of drugs demonstrate the potential for further manipulation, with adjustments to the paclitaxel in silicone coupons or via other techniques. The authors reported that there has been similar success with other stents.

Percentage of drug, paclitaxel, released from 250 mg silicone coupons in ethanol at 37°C, over 72 hours (n=3). Table 1 denotes A, B, C, D, E, and F silicone coupon conditions.

Cell viability for Beas-2B and H23 immortalised cell lines, grown on paclitaxel eluting silicone coupons, over 72 hours (n=6). An 80% cut-off was used to determine cellular viability.

“The implications of characterizing a successful controlled release of paclitaxel from cured liquid silicone rubber will allow clinicians to personalize treatment depending on airway geometry and control for the targeted dose of paclitaxel to the area of interest, thereby reducing the side effect profile of paclitaxel and its excipients (i.e. ethanol and polyoxyethylated castor oil) in systemic circulation,” stated the researchers.

“Further assessment in the comparability of paclitaxel release into lung-like environment is needed to characterize the effectiveness of drug release.”

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[Source / Images: ‘Incorporating Chemotherapeutic Drug into a Personalizable Silicone Airway Stent for the Treatment of Lung Cancer and Tracheobronchomalacia’]

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CSIRO 3D Prints First Self-Expandable Stents from Shape-Memory Alloy Nitinol

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is a condition which sees fatty deposits collect and lower the blood flow in arteries outside of the heart, most commonly in the legs. Those suffering from PAD will often experience pain while walking, and could even develop gangrene if the case is serious enough. Over 10 percent of people in Australia are afflicted with this painful condition. To treat it, a stent can be temporarily inserted inside the blood vessel to keep it open.

We’ve seen 3D printing used to fabricate stents before, which can help improve sizing options and allow for patient-specific diameters and shapes. But ,until now, there hasn’t been a way to print a self-expandable stent made of shape-memory nickel and titanium alloy nitinol. The material is superelastic, and metallurgists have had a difficult time trying to figure out a way to 3D print a self-expandable nitinol stent without compromising the unique properties of the metal alloy.

But researchers from Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), together with its Wollongong-based partner, the Medical Innovation Hub, have finally made it possible.

Vascular surgeon Dr. Arthur Stanton, the Chief Executive of Medical Innovation Hub, explained, “Currently, surgeons use off-the-shelf stents, and although they come in various shapes and sizes, overall there are limitations to the range of stents available. We believe our new 3D-printed self-expanding nitinol stents offer an improved patient experience through better fitting devices, better conformity to blood vessel and improved recovery times. There is also the opportunity for the technology to be used for mass production of stents, potentially at lower cost.”

Stent model

The first 3D-printed nitinol stent is a major medical breakthrough for PAD patients, as surgeons have had to use off-the-shelf, non-custom stents for these procedures in the past. But with 3D printing, individual nitinol stents can be made right at the hospital, with the surgeon there to offer instructions—saving time and money, and reducing inventory, as well.

According to Australia’s Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, 3D printing could mark a major paradigm shift in the $16 billion worldwide stent manufacturing industry:

“This is a great example of industry working with our researchers to develop an innovative product that addresses a global need and builds on our sovereign capability.”

The proof-of-concept stents offer the potential for customization to individual patient requirements, but are equally as suitable for mass production.

Back in 2015, CSIRO opened the Lab22 Innovation Center. The specialist researchers there are focused on creating value for Australia’s manufacturing industry by developing future developments in metal additive manufacturing. CSIRO’s Lab22 collaborates with industry partners, like the Medical Innovation Hub, to build important biomedical parts, like the first 3D-printed sternum and titanium heel, and now the first 3D-printed nitinol stent.

CSIRO Principal Research Scientist Dr Sri Lathabai said, “Nitinol is a shape-memory alloy with superelastic properties. It’s a tricky alloy to work with in 3D printing conditions, due to its sensitivity to stress and heat. We had to select the right 3D-printing parameters to get the ultra-fine mesh structure needed for an endovascular stent, as well as carefully manage heat treatments so the finished product can expand as needed, once inside the body.”

The team used selective laser melting (SLM) technology to successfully fabricate the complex mesh stent structures. Due to the level of geometric accuracy that 3D printing achieves, the stents can be made for specific patients, and nitinol allows them to expand once inside the body. CSIRO has established a new technology company, Flex Memory Ventures (FMV), to help commercialize the technology.

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3D Systems: New 3D Printing Materials for Figure 4 & SLA

3D Systems continues to add to its material offerings for customers worldwide with a variety of new choices in their plastics portfolio, which now includes Figure 4 RUBBER-65A BLK, Accura Fidelity, Accura Bond, Accura Patch, and Figure 4 JEWEL MASTER GRY.

Meant to accompany 3D Systems Figure 4 and SLA printing techniques, industrial users will be able to expand with different applications in manufacturing.

Figure 4 RUBBER-65A BLK (Production-grade rubber suitable for multiple industrial applications): 3D Systems adds to its range of production-grade materials, offering an elastomer with mid-tear strength and high elongation at break. Suitable for applications like seals, air and dust gaskets, vibration dampeners and pipe spacers, this material is also biocompatible (per ISO 10993-5 and ISO 10993-10) allowing for other critical parts to be made such as handles, grippers, and medical padding used in both splints and braces.

Figure 4 RUBBER-65A BLK also offers:

  • Long-term environmental stability
  • High accuracy
  • Minimal scarring from supports
  • Faster production than other materials requiring secondary thermal post-cure

 “As a mechanical engineer and designer of medical devices, I can think of many uses for a robust elastomeric material such as Figure 4 RUBBER-65A BLK,” said Matthew Cavuto, mechanical engineer, Imperial College London. “Custom sealing grommets, damping elements, or even soft-touch grips are just a few of the applications that come to mind – all of which would expand the capabilities and streamline my process of prototyping on the Figure 4. Functionally, Figure 4 RUBBER-65A BLK is quite impressive. When matched with the right part and application, it has great tear strength and exceptional print quality.”

3D Systems created this new material to adhere to customer requirements in terms of production performance properties, mechanical properties, and testing standards. Figure 4 RUBBER-65A BLK will be available late June 2020.

3D Systems also introduced Accura Fidelity, an SLA resin which is antimony free and features ultra-low viscosity. Users will be able to fabricate patterns for a range of different castable metals, like titanium and aluminum. Casting yields are improved as the new material allows for quick production of patterns that are easily handled. This product is already available.

When used as part of 3D Systems’ QuickCast process, Accura Fidelity enables rapid creation of medium to large, lightweight, and easy-to-handle casting patterns – leading to increased casting yields.

“The new Accura Fidelity material for stereolithography printing has improved the post-processing of our QuickCast investment casting patterns,” said Nancy Holt, director of operations, 3D Systems On Demand. “The low viscosity of this material facilitates better drainage and faster cleaning of the patterns, resulting in an expected increase in throughput by up to 30% as we move into full production with this material. The ultimate test is in its castability, and our foundry customers are providing very positive feedback. One customer, SeaCast, said the QuickCast pattern with Accura Fidelity casted extremely well with their process and they were very pleased with the final metal part.”

Accura Patch and Accura Bond are also being introduced, for use with 3D Systems SLA resins. The product names speak for themselves as pattern drain holes can be filled in post-processing, and materials can also be joined to create one larger pattern. Both of these materials will be available in July.

Figure 4 JEWEL MASTER GRY: meant to expand options for jewelry makers, this new material improves workflows in jewelry casting, master patterns for molds, and prototype/fit check models. This material meets biocompatibility standards (ISO 10933-5) regarding cytotoxicity. 3D Systems expects it to be available in late June.

Figure 4 JEWEL MASTER GRY – a versatile master pattern material for high volume jewelry silicone molds and for prototype/fit models.

“Our team has continued developing new materials across our plastics portfolio to address a broader set of production applications and providing data sheets with key test results and performance specs to make it easy for our customers to make the optimal material choice for their needs,” said Menno Ellis, SVP and general manager, plastics, 3D Systems. “Our material scientists and technical experts have leveraged decades of experience to engineer these high performing materials to deliver accurate, economical, and repeatable results to enable our customers to maintain competitive advantage.”

These new materials will be on hand at the virtual ‘Go Digital, Stay Agile’ event on July 8th. The event will focus on how 3D printing and conventional manufacturing methods can complement one another in business. Individuals attending will be able to meet with experts and discuss specific applications. See 3D Systems for more information.

3D Systems continues to innovate, offering new software, new technology, and more. What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

Parts produced using Figure 4 RUBBER-65A BLK and 3D Systems’ Figure 4 technology can be produced faster than other similar competitive materials that require a secondary thermal post-cure.

[Source / Images: 3D Systems]

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3DPOD Episode 27: Terry Wohlers

Max and I really enjoyed our chat with Terry Wohlers. Terry has been writing the Wohlers Report for 25 years. This report is the definitive yearly 3D printing report, and gives us all an annual update on market developments, breakthroughs, and new applications worldwide. Additionally, Terry consults for many businesses globally, helping them to implement and understand 3D printing. His company has worked with over 275 clients in 27 countries including the likes of Airbus, GE, Lockheed, Apple, Procter & Gamble and NASA. I’ve known Terry for a long time and he always has insight and concise analysis of developments in the industry. Max and I talked with him about when to use additive, what is holding the technology back, the general state of the industry, growth today, some key highlights of the Wohlers Report, and his America Makes involvement.

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4DTexture: Holistic Computational Design for 3D Surfaces

Researchers from both the US and China are taking digital fabrication and texture in materials to the next level, releasing the findings of their study in the recently published ‘4D Texture: A Shape-Changing Fabrication Method for 3D Surfaces with Texture.’

4D printing is growing as an area of interest for many researchers, but like 3D printing—and even more so—there is still enormously uncharted territory. Users are able to move beyond the constraints of 3D printing to meet pressing needs for more complex projects like creating new metastructures, surfaces, and new materials and techniques. 4D printing offers more to users innovating beyond the 3D, seeking to fabricate more complex geometries too.

In this study, the authors introduce a new design approach called 4DTexture which they describe as a ‘holistic computational design and fabrication method, leveraging the state-of-the-art 4D printing process to make 3D surfaces with texture.’

Time and material consumption comparison between conventional printing and 4DTexture method.

Shape-changing principle: the textured structure can be printed without a support structure, which can transform into a 3D textured shape after heat triggering.

While the benefits of 3D printing are and continue to be vast for industrial users, 4D printing opens up new areas for fabrication that usually cannot be explored through conventional technology either. The new technique created in this study allows for actuators to be made with vertical texture structures—later to be turned into more complicated forms. The system runs on Rhino with Grasshopper, comprised of the following for preview and customization:

  • Texture element
  • Arrangement
  • Tendency and transformation type

The workflow: users can (a) design the element of texture and (b) the shape of actuator, define the transformation type and (c) the arrange type of the texture, (d) set the tendency of the texture, then (e) generate the g-code file which can be printed by an FDM printer, finally users can obtain (f) the printed flat piece which can be heat triggered into (g) the target 3D shape.

Experiments were performed on textured structures as the researchers built up a ‘library’ consisting of shapes like hemispheres, pyramids, and hemicylinders. The program offers tools so that parameters can be customized; for example, designers can use offered 4D morphing mechanisms from previous projects or modify the settings if needed. Once the actuator shapes are set, textures can be arranged. Height and size can be chosen, and users can also move textures.

PLA was used with a MakerBot Replicator 2X as the researchers printed sample textures using the defaults for the hardware, producing self-rising, self-coiling, and self-bending objects.

Transformation types: (a) self-rise (b) self-coil and (c) self-bend.

“The transformation mechanism can be controlled by the printing direction, which has been embedded into our system to simulate the behavior,” stated the researchers.

Just as 3D printing has allowed for a variety of different forays into fashion, 4D printing has too, bringing all the benefits of materials that can morph and shift as needed. In this study, the researchers fabricated fashion accessories, a modular toy, a haptic handle, and 3D fasteners.

Fashion design: (a) The flat printed piece; (b) The decorative scenario.

Customized haptic handle: (a) The flat printed piece; (b) The usage scenario.

3D fasteners: (a) The flat printed piece; (b, c) The usage scenario.

“We hope such a system can expand the design opportunity of 4D printing technology with a hobbyist FDM printer,” concluded the researchers. “In the future, we plan to implement a systematic material experiment for improving transformation accuracy and fine-tune the parametric setting with Grasshopper to make the design tool more user-friendly. We also found that the texture structure can serve as a constrained layer which needs further investigation.”

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

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No 3D hangouts This Week

Hey folks, no show this week so we can put all efforts on the voices we’re amplifying together.

Stratasys Lays off 10 Percent of Workers

Stratasys, the marketplace leader in industrial fused deposition modeling technology, has announced that it is laying off 10 percent of its workers worldwide. In a statement, the company seemed to suggest that this workforce reduction was not necessarily related to COVID-19, but that the pandemic caused the plan to be implemented sooner:

“This resizing, advanced sooner due to the impact of COVID-19, will affect approximately 10% of employees, and is designed to reduce operating expenses as part of a cost realignment program to focus on profitable growth. The company expects the vast majority of the reduction to take place in the second quarter and to complete the reduction during the third quarter of this year.”

Since the 3D printing stock market bubble burst in 2014, publicly traded additive manufacturing companies have struggled to regain their footing. At 3D Systems, former CEO Avi Reichental stepped down and was replaced by Vyomesh Joshi who, after seemingly putting the firm back on track, has also stepped down.

Stratasys CEO Yoav Zeif.

Stratasys and its MakerBot subsidiary have cycled through executive leadership much more rapidly, executing multiple rounds layoffs at MakerBot. Stratasys CEO David Reis was replaced by Ilan Levin in 2016, who resigned in 2018. Now, Yoav Zeif acts as Chief Executive Officer. Of the layoffs, Zeif said:

“This reduction in force is a difficult but essential step in our ongoing strategic process, designed to better position the company for sustainable and profitable growth. I would like to express my appreciation to each of the employees impacted by this decision for their dedicated service. Current conditions make the job market even more challenging, and we have done our best to provide the departing employees globally with a respectable and fair separation. This measure is not expected to affect the progress on our forthcoming product launch plans, which remain a top priority as we lead the industry to new heights with our best-in-class additive manufacturing solutions.”

Stratasys revenues declined 14 percent in Q1 compared to last year. The company believes that, by eliminating labor, it can reduce operating expenses by $30 million, though it will pay out $6 million in severance costs. The 3D printing company is hardly the only one in the industry or in industry at large suffering economically at the moment. Numerous AM firms have reported lowered revenues due to the COVID pandemic.

The recently released Stratasys J55 3D printer.

While layoffs have come to be par for the course during economic downturns, it is not a prerequisite to the survival of a business, though that may depend on the size of the firm. Stratasys is much smaller than the $13B Mondragon Co-Operative Corporation, which avoids displacing workers by relocating them from one area of the business to another. In turn, the company able to weather the 2008 financial crisis. In 2013, Mondragon’s largest manufacturing company went bankrupt. Instead of instituting layoffs, the employee-owners voted to take small pay cuts and relocated 2,000 workers across the larger business group.

The workforce reduction comes at a time when the U.S. is facing a 20 percent unemployment rate, which is potentially adding fuel to the wave of protests against police violence the country is experiencing. Given the current economic situation, it will not be surprising if we see other 3D printing companies execute similar decisions in the near future.

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Anouk Wipprecht’s 3D-Printed Proximity Dresses Are Perfect for Social Distancing

If you don’t remember the stunning and technical work from Anouk Wipprecht—the Dutch fashion design working on “rethinking fashion in the age of digitalization” by combining engineering, fashion, robotics, science, and interaction/user experience in an emerging field known as FashionTech—let me refresh your memory. Noting that fashion lacks microcontrollers—something I never would have thought about—Wipprecht is an amazingly unique designer, who wants her clothing to, according to her website, “facilitate and augment the interactions we have with ourselves and our surroundings.”

“In a future where electronics are predicted to be embedded in everyday objects, – what kind of clothes will we wear? Will future techno fashion be purely aesthetic – or will it expand our awareness, acting like an intelligent second skin? Will we become super sensory, physically aware of data flows, communicating our internal states through the garments we wear? And, most pertinently perhaps, how will we socialize in our world when we are supervised by technology?”

Anouk Wipprecht’s Smoke Dress

Back in 2014, Wipprecht launched a campaign to create the first crowdsourced 3D-printed dress, and followed this up with her Synapse Dress, partnering with Materialise, Niccolo Casas, and Intel to create a wearable that leverages the wearer’s own electrical currents for a fully immersive experience. The designer later combined 3D printing with virtual reality to create a collection of dresses for Audi, and worked with model and musician Viktoria Modesta to fabricate 3D-printed prosthetics for musical performance.

Now, the high-tech futurist designer is back with two new 3D-printed wearables that could be very useful in this time of social distancing, due to the continuing COVID-19 crisis: the Proximity Dresses, Robotic Personal Space Defenders.

“Extending my research into proxemics and the body, I have fabricated two new dresses that create physical barriers when a person is detected in the immediate surroundings of the wearer,” Wipprecht said. “These twin dresses respond based on proximity and thermal sensors and indicates strangers within the intimate, personal, social and public space around the wearer.”

As with Wipprecht’s Smoke Dress and 3D-printed, robotic Spider Dress, which literally moves itself into an attack position if the embedded proximity biosensors detect that the wearer is uncomfortable, the design for these new dresses is based on Edward T. Hall’s Proxemics Theory. She explains that the theory defines “four spaces around the body,” each of which has its “own characteristic distances.”

Anouk Wipprecht’s 3D-Printed Spider Dress

“Whereas Hall had to measure the space between people using a wooden stick, I have been working since 2007 to translate these concepts into the digital domain, in order to measure the spaces between people up to a range of 25 feet,” she explained.

The Proximity Dresses use robotic, nylon 3D-printed hip mechanisms to extend when necessary. Additionally, they feature a transparent collar, 3D printed from clear resin, with some fancy sensors that offer noise-free distance readings.

Anouk Wipprecht’s Proximity Dress

These sensors use “high-output acoustic power combined with continuously variable gain, real-time background automatic calibration, real-time waveform signature analysis, and noise rejection algorithms. This holds true even in the presence of various acoustic or electrical noise sources, making it suitable for on-body use.”

By using the sensors, Wipprecht’s unique designs can invisibly trace their surroundings. Additionally, since the sensors don’t record any images or video, the dresses are not a threat to privacy, as nearby people remain anonymous.

“The Proximity Dress 2.0 is based on my 2012 prototype of this dress using hip mechanics create distance and a proximity sensor (ultrasonic rangefinder) for VW showcase during IAA, in Germany,” she concludes.

Check out the video below to see Wipprecht discuss her innovative, defensive Proximity Dress with Hyphen-Hub:

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Vintage Rotary Phone Dial PC Volume Control #MusicMonday

It might not be the most practical volume control but there is something so satisfying about old rotary phone dials. Nice detailed guide with a funny intro video. Shared by Cameron Coward on Hackster.io:

If you’re anything like me, you find yourself changing the volume on your computer quite often. Some videos are louder than others, sometimes you want the volume muted on your computer while you listen to podcasts or music, and you might need to quickly turn the volume down if you receive a phone call. If you don’t have media controls built into your computer, then you can turn a vintage rotary phone dial into a volume control for your Windows PC.

This volume control device plugs into your computer through USB, and will automatically set every open program’s volume to whatever number you dial. If you dial a “2, ” the volume will be set to 20%. Dial an “8” and it will be set to 80%. Dialing “0” sets it to 0% and acts like mute. It’s quick, satisfying, and more fun than clicking around on the volume control in your taskbar.

Learn more!

The Real Cost of 3D Printing

After reading the now famous article about a ventilator valve that can be 3D printed for $1, compared to the traditionally-manufactured valve costing $11,000, I realized that the way 3D printing costs are calculated is still vastly oversimplified, which leads to reliance on two incomplete cost models. The most common says that unlike traditional manufacturing there are never economies of scale and that the cost per part stays constant, whether a single part or 100s of parts are printed. Another model is that 3D printing costs slightly decrease with the number of units as more parts are added to the build bed, and the average build time per part decreases.

Figure 1: Common models of 3D printing costs

Both of the above models provide a cost approximation and are often used by service bureaus, but they both have the same flaw: They don’t take the machine utilization into account.

For 3D printing, there are five main cost contributors:

  • Material cost: Material usage for the part, support material, and other material waste
  • Machine depreciation: Portion of the machine price attributed to a part due to the time the machine is being used to build the part
  • Consumable costs: The cost of consumables used for the build (build trays, argon gas, filters, printhead, etc.)
  • Labor costs: Personnel cost involved in the build (build file preparation, machine preparation, build monitoring, machine clean-up, and support removal)
  • Risk: Risk of failure involved in building this part. Usually comes in two different types, time risk – the longer the print, the higher the risk of failure, and geometry risk – certain geometries might have higher risk of failure for certain technology.

In this article we will take a deeper look at the machine depreciation cost and how machine utilization influences it.

Let’s start with a basic equation that is often forgotten or ignored but is essential to understanding the cost of 3D printed parts.

Figure 2: Machine Depreciation Calculations

The machine utilization is the percentage of the time during the year where the machine is producing parts. Because the utilization is in the denominator of the equation above, there is an inverse relationship between part cost and machine utilization. In other words, the part cost goes down as the machine utilization goes up.

Real machine utilization is very difficult to guess without having robust data available, so a lot of companies will use a fixed number for utilization. They often choose a number between 60% and 70%… a number that is often overly-optimistic.

Other companies with access to historical data will estimate machine utilization based on past figures. Many factors can influence the utilization figure, such as maintenance, down time, and build cleaning, but based on our experience the main contributors are staff availability to change builds and having enough parts to produce.

Staff availability is often forgotten because additive manufacturing is seen as an unmanned manufacturing process. While this is mostly true, staffing is still required for preparing and cleaning the machine between builds as well as monitoring if the build has failed. If a build finishes in the middle of the night with no staff available, a machine will sit idle, lowering utilization until the morning when a technician can prepare the machine for a new build.

To solve this, companies tend to schedule longer builds to complete outside of working hours. Scheduling builds in this way reduces the time a machine sits idle between builds.

Figure 3: Unoptimized build planning 62% utilization

Figure 4: Optimized build planning 79% utilization

We have seen companies updating to a faster machine expecting cost savings due to better part throughput, only for the machine sit idle because there are not enough parts to keep it busy. If the machine can produce parts twice as fast but the number of parts produced per year is the same, then the machine depreciation cost per part stays the same.

Taking this into account, it is important to match the machine throughput to the part demand as closely as possible:

Figure 5: Production equipment matched with part demand

These two points show that 3D printing is similar to traditional production methods, where it is necessary to get throughput, part demand, and production planning right in order to minimize part manufacturing cost.

When taking into account machine utilization and how most users of additive manufacturing adopt the technology, we come up with the model below, which takes into account everything we discussed in this article and shows how the per part cost of 3D printing changes based on the number of parts manufactured and the number of machines needed to produce them:

Figure 6: Realistic utilization-based cost per part

Based on the graph above we see that costs can be cut to a minimum if we can match the parts demand with the machine capacity. At Blueprint, when we create a ROI model for our clients, we often group many parts together to improve the machine utilization. Sometimes we will change the material of some parts or redesign a part so it can fit in a smaller build chamber. Knowing this, what should you do?

If you are looking into acquiring some production equipment, ask for real build time figures based on your parts, then plan what a typical week of builds will look like. This will help you to create a utilization-based ROI tailored to your specific conditions.

Once the machine is up and running, monitor its utilization. If it is low (below 60%,) identify the cause. Can you schedule builds better? If you don’t have enough demands for parts, invest into identifying and transitioning parts to additive; that investment will end up saving you money in the long run.

Also look at changing the design of your parts to lower build times. Getting training on design for additive manufacturing will lead to less material utilization and shorter build time which will improve your overall parts economics.

Regardless of the design changes needed, don’t be scared by the initial cost per part based on cost calculations on a limited number of parts. Keep in mind that any extra part you manage to identify and transition to additive manufacturing will lead to a part cost reduction on all your 3D printed parts. Keep monitoring your use of additive manufacturing and observe the costs are shrinking the more you use it and you are getting more expertise. Actively managing your machine utilization and investing in upskilling your workforce will be the keys to achieving the favorable economics of additive manufacturing.

Loïc LeMerlus

Loic leads the development of Blueprint’s algorithms that drive our proprietary analysis tools. He also works closely with many of our clients to analyze complex data and understand the economic impact that 3D printing and additive manufacturing could have on their businesses. In other words, he puts the numbers behind the hype. Loic has over 9 years leading projects to quantify the impact of the technology, working with users and vendors across the additive manufacturing industry.

Blueprint is an additive manufacturing consultancy, bringing together more than 16 years of knowledge and experience across the industry. As the world’s leading additive manufacturing consultancy, Blueprint regularly assists future-ready companies achieve additive success. Based in Eden Prairie, Minn., and Milford, U.K, the firm offers a unique, technology-agnostic perspective on all things additive, from strategic advice to design optimization services. More information is available online at www.additiveblueprint.com.

If you want to discuss this article or your additive manufacturing strategy, the team at Blueprint is here to help. Let’s talk.

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