Wednesday, May 30, 2018

3D printing

3D printers are becoming an integral part of many U.S. manufacturing sectors. JPMorgan forecasts 3D printer revenue to rise at a 20% to 25% compound annual growth rate for the next several years.

In recent years, 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has been ballyhooed as a game-changing technology because of its ability to make customized objects with no additional tooling or material waste. The process, involving a machine rapidly layering materials to make an object from a digital model, has made inroads in industries from aerospace to consumer electronics.

The technology was developed in the 1980s mainly to produce small volumes of scale models; much attention lately has focused on hobbyists printing functional guns. But the shift from the garage to the factory floor has begun. Additive manufacturing is poised to almost triple in value to about $6 billion annually worldwide by 2017, according to one estimate, boosted in part by a recent decision by General Electric Co. to spend tens of millions of dollars “printing” fuel nozzles for its newest jet engine.

But adoption of 3-D printing is happening fastest in the medical industry. Commercially, companies such as Beltone, a Glenview, Illinois-based hearing-aid maker, uses 3-D printing to make the majority of its hearing aids, and Kalamazoo, Mich.-based Stryker Corp. uses it to produce knee implants. With the Midwest's cluster of research institutions and manufacturing expertise, this region is emerging as fertile ground for developing clinical uses for 3-D printing.

A 3-D printed version of the top of a child's skull created by Medical Modeling Inc. for Shriners Hospitals for Children in Chicago.

There are still significant regulatory hurdles to the widespread use of 3-D implants and prosthetics, though. So the technology's most immediate impact is on personalized surgery and pre-surgical planning. The ability to create a 3-D print directly from CT scans and MRIs allows Drs. Fortuna and Bramlet, and others like them, an unprecedented level of insight into a patient's anatomy before ever setting scalpel to skin.

“There is tremendous interest,” says Dr. John Hibbeln, 55, a radiologist at Rush University Medical Center who runs the hospital's three-month-old 3-D printing lab. “The question is now that of modern medical economics. How do we pay for these? These are not inexpensive devices.”

High-resolution printers run from about $40,000 to upward of $1 million, and federal funding is increasingly difficult to obtain. The National Institutes of Health awarded money in the 2013 fiscal year to only 17 percent of applicants, the lowest rate since at least 1997, according to data from the Bethesda, Md.-based agency.

Most of the research on the clinical use of 3-D models is financed by universities and foundations. Dr. Barsness has received nearly $300,000 in grants from the junior board of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago Research Center, the Feinberg school and the Children's Surgical Foundation.

GE Aviation is using 3-D printers to make fuel nozzles for its next generation jet engine, above and right. Below, robots printed by 3D Systems.

3D-printed guns are already here.
Left: a DIY 9mm Glock 26 clone with a Tiffany blue Polymer 80 frame. Right: A 3D printer assembled out of $175 worth of Chinese parts.

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