A customer called and said, “We need an exact replica of what’s inside a human lung,” and all I could think was, “Tell me more!”
Shaped almost like intricate coral, the inside of a human lung was conceived using MRI data and a 3D-printed replica was created by Eden Prairie firm, 3D Printing Ally. The team’s expertise in SLA (Stereolithography) programming and post-processing made 3D Printing Ally the perfect shop to advise, create the CAD file, and ultimately print the piece.
The customer sent a cadaver scan of a lung. They wanted a 3D printed model with hollow voids (stems). This was a huge challenge for us. Our team analyzed the files, recommended the technology, created the CAD file, then spent a lot of time clipping and fixing to make sure that it would print and that all unwanted material would clear out of it when it was printed. To make it structurally sound, every little overhang had to have support material, otherwise the entire print could be ruined. Also, the final print had to be clear and as crisp as possible. We selected our SLA printer and clear material to complete this project.
Most people in the medical device space understand that 3D printing can help with prototypes and product development, but this lung project was more than just a prototype. This was a customer in need of a total solution, not just a print. Finding a company that will sit down and help the customer understand what is possible with 3D printing and let them decide how it best fits their needs is rare in our industry. Most companies just want you to submit print ready files and wait for them to show up.
This customer was willing to invest the time to do the job right, and we were excited about taking on the challenge. While most 3D printing companies would turn away projects that require creation of complicated CAD files, our company has the capability and the desire to work with them. The lung needed to be printed at a 1:1 scale. For 3D Printing Ally, the size is not usually an issue. Cleaning an object that size (and that complicated) can be a challenge, especially with all those stems that need to be hollow.
Our team spent a total of two weeks creating the model and the monster program that it would take to complete this project. Once the program was complete, printing – even multiple copies – could be accomplished quickly.
In addition to SLA in both Visijet SL Clear and Visijet SL Impact (white) material, we also offer FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) printing using ABS-M30, Polycarbonate and Ultem 9085, SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) printing using PA 650 (Nylon 12), and CJP (Color Jet Printing) using Visijet PXL (Ceramic).
This wide range of technologies and materials allows 3D Printing Ally to select the right combination for their customers. Factors like feature size, surface finish, and durability go into the selection process.
The main advantage we offer at 3D Printing Ally is personal contact. Our engineering team works with the customer to help all the way through the process. Some of the things we tell our customers are:
- Don’t forget to design for the final production process (molding, machining, etc.). We can print any geometry, but the last thing you want to do is redesign for manufacturability right before going to market.
- Try multiple designs. Running 10 different parts will cost roughly the same as 10 of the same part.
- Use clear material whenever possible, so the internal workings can be analyzed.
- Bio-compatible materials are available for 3D printing.
- Some processes are air and water tight.
Other services we perform include 3D scanning, JIT (Just In Time) manufacturing, 3D modeling, UV coloring, texturing and photo-realistic 3D rendering. Secondary operations are also part of our services and they include dyeing, assembly, and kitting.
We also work with a network of smaller companies that specialize in operations such as injection molding, (even micro molding), CNC machining, painting, and finishing work.
We’ve just scratched the surface. Right now, we can process raw CAD data into something that’s touchable and teachable. We have a unique ability to handle large and complicated projects. While the possibilities are enticing, what’s most valuable to me is that we’re printing items that truly make a difference. We may not see who is receiving the benefit from this lung, but I know we’re starting a chain reaction.