It may not be instantly obvious why a healthcare company with specialties in diabetes and hormone replacement therapy would be interested in 3D printing but this has been the case recently for just such a company: which provides an interesting case study on the use of 3D printer services that may differ from the typical uses in rapid prototyping that many even within the industry itself are used to.
Many users of 3D printers for rapid prototyping create the exterior shell of a product or other visible parts to create a basic prototype that is primarily to show what the product will look like. The healthcare company in this example though have used a 3D printer service in house for designing many very small parts not to show what a product will look like but to ensure the product will fit together and perform. The product they are currently working on, others are likely to be designed the same way in the future, is an Insulin pen for diabetes sufferers.
The pen must be small and easy to transport round and also to use discretely as many diabetes suffers find using an insulin pen in public makes them very self-aware. The pen must also be long lasting and easy to refill to maximize the value for customers be they individuals or government funded health services.
The 3D printer service was bought in house by the company working with TechCluster, a local 3D printer reseller, who provided a solution of using a Projet HD 3000 printer for the 3D printer service with Visijet EX2000 materials. This allowed the company to print parts that were very small with fantastic accuracy yet with a lot of strength compared to other methods. Color was less important and the process of adding a color layer that the printer could provide would have added to the parts a small layer that in this case would have added too much to the parts. A solvent bath was instead used to color the parts once produced.
The company produce several other products for diabetes sufferers and those taking hormones and are likely to use the 3D printer service again in future. This may well include for the monitoring devices they use to measure insulin and other chemicals in the blood. Already a market leader the company hope that their 3D printer service capability will allow them to keep this position.
3D printers are becoming more common in healthcare though and look likely to be increasingly used in hospitals and suppliers of 3D printing to hospitals; in the short term this is likely to be mainly for use by surgeons and others to plan operations and other procedures using models 3D printed based on scans done in the hospital. Long term though 3D printed parts may be increasingly used in the body with replacement hips already being printed, the accuracy being key 3D printing is perfectly suited to this.