Feb 17, 2021

Rapid Reflection on… Print me your ears


Coming from a year of lockdowns, furloughs, and bubbles, we thought we would herald the start of 2021 with a positive tale of exciting medical developments from 2020!

Many people are now using 3D printing for prototypes, production, development and just for fun, but there is a lot of “behind the scenes” work looking to launch our industry into new realms!

3D Bioprinting is one such niche market which has come a very long way over the last decade.

Despite the thousands of organ donations that happen around the world, it will never meet the ever-increasing demand for organ donation. Living and deceased donors are today the only viable source for these life-saving organs, as we can’t just produce them at an organ factory………yet!

Click for the full story to find out some of the most promising projects from 2021

Oct 26, 2020

Additive Manufacturing for Medical Applications – What Materials can I use?

LPE 3D Printed Heart

AM Materials for Medical Applications

Additive Manufacturing (AM) equipment and materials were first developed in the 1980s. The technology was first used for medical purposes as dental implants and custom prosthetics in the 1990s.

In recent years 3D printing for medical applications is expanding at a rapid pace and is revolutionising healthcare as we know it.

While the benefits and the technological innovations derived from using Additive Manufacturing are outstanding, there remains some confusion when it comes to choosing the most suitable materials for your medical applications. Below we have outlined the most common materials and their usage in medical applications.


Watershed XC 11122

Applications include: Anatomical models, medical devices, field trials.

WaterShed® XC 11122 is a low viscosity liquid photopolymer that produces strong, tough, water-resistant, ABS-like properties with good temperature resistance. Specially formulated to include outstanding water resistance and high dimensional stability.

WaterShed® XC 11122 is the clear solution for designers looking for ABS and PBT-like properties for stereolithography technology. Its near-colourless appearance is like that of clear engineered plastic. This material is cleared for use for biomedical and on skin contact applications at the prototype/development stage. It is also suitable for prototyping clear medical device housings and fluid flow analysis as well as dental product applications.

Laser Prototypes Europe is ISO13485 approved to supply models to this standard.


Figure 4 MED-AMB 10

Applications include: Surgical drill guides and splints. Visualisation and fluid flow models. Medical devices that require biocompatibility, sterilisation and/or thermal resistance.

A rigid amber material for applications requiring biocompatibility, translucency and/or thermal resistance. It provides parts with fine features, that can be sterilised and tested at  temperatures over 100 °C.

This material is capable of meeting ISO 10993-5 & 10 standards for biocompatibility. The crisp feature detail offers excellent visualisation for parts requiring evaluation of internal features and their performance.


SLS nylon (PA 2200)

Applications include: Prosthetic limbs, medical trials.

Laser sintered parts made from PA 2200 have excellent material properties with high strength and rigidity, good chemical resistance and finishing possibilities. It is a tough, functional material with high temperature resistance, designed for strong end user parts. Due to its excellent mechanical properties, users can substitute injection moulding for simplified, high-spec 3D printing. Its biocompatibility under EN ISO 10993-1 and USP/level VI/121°C means that it is medically approved for on skin applications.


Titanium Ti64 Eli Grade 23

Applications include: Orthopaedic implants, orthopaedic pins and screws, ligature clips, surgical staples, springs, orthodontic appliances, bone and joint replacement, dental root implants, surgical clips and cryogenic vessels.

This is one of the more commonly used titanium alloys, as it is corrosion-resistant, high strength, tough and lightweight. Usually referred to as Ti 6Al-4V, ELI (Extra Low Interstitial) grade it has lower impurity limits, especially oxygen and iron.

This material is regularly used in medical technology because of its good biocompatible, excellent fracture toughness and crack propagation behaviour. Even maintaining good fracture toughness at low temperatures. These properties as well as low elastic modules and good fatigue strength are due to the alloys low ELI.


Stainless steel (CL 20ES and CL92PH)

Applications include: Highly detailed precision mould tools, medical implants, surgical tools

Metal materials are at the first step toward high-quality results, producing very tough heat resistant components. Parts can be manufactured in high resolution facilitating the production of very fine details.

CL 20ES is an austenitic stainless steel for the production of functional parts or components for pre-production moulds. This material is used for manufacturing acid and corrosion-resistant parts. CL 92 PH is a precipitation hardening stainless steel and can be used for manufacturing functional components or medical instruments.


This detailed chart of Rapid Prototyping materials and their properties may also prove helpful to you. If you have further queries, please feel free to contact us on sales@laserproto.com


The Benefits of AM

A 2017 report by research company Markets and Markets indicated that the 3D printing medical devices market is projected to grow from an estimated USD 0.84 billion in 2017 to USD 1.88 billion by 2022! The report states that the Additive Manufacturing Medical Devices market is “primarily driven by factors such as technological advancements, increasing public-private funding, easy development of customised medical products, and growing applications in the healthcare industry.”

The benefits of such technology in the medical sector include:

Flexibility in the creation of complex designs that are not possible using other techniques.

Eliminates part assembly by producing the required product or component in a single piece rather than several parts.

Reduces lead-time and time to market: AM speeds up the manufacturing process, making it ideal for mass customisation.

Cost-Effectiveness: AM allows for lower labour and material costs as well as lowered supply chain and production costs.

Reduction in material waste and energy: there is a significant reduction in waste materials as AM adds materials layer by layer as required, in turn reducing manufacturing and assembly to one or two steps.


“Today, it’s extremely difficult to make and assemble complex parts containing a lot of pieces or unique geometries using traditional injection molding or machining technologies,” says Forbes. “With additive manufacturing, however, there’s limitless flexibility to design complex parts, as well as combine components to streamline manufacturing and assembly of final parts while reducing supply chain costs.”


COVID Case Studies

More recently, Additive manufacturing is helping save lives and prevent complete outages of key medical equipment during the Covid-19 pandemic..

The production of a precision 1:1 scale model of a Covid-19 patient’s lungs who had been battling the virus for 14 days.  This 3D model enabled doctors to better visualise how much of an impact the virus has on the lungs, giving them a better understanding of why so many people were having lasting breathing effects after they had overcome the virus.

A working ventilator was built using 3D printers and off-the-shelf components. It provided the security needed that there would be additional ventilators readily available should Irish hospitals reach capacity. Italy was one of the worst affected countries, suppliers were not able to keep up with the demand for key medical supplies. They began to run out of valves for patients on ventilators. A local innovator was able to source a 3D printer and begin manufacturing valves within 6 hours of his local hospital’s cry for help.

PPE equipment was also in short supply. An advanced manufacturing research facility based in University College Dublin (UCD) was able to design and begin manufacture of face shields for medical staff within a week.

At LPE, Belfast engineers and modelmakers have been busy helping with COVID-19 projects including ventilator manufacturing, PPE supply and hospital bed equipment. Jigs and fixtures needed quickly to cope with high levels of production required during the pandemic and even low volume 3d printed production runs to help meet impossibly tight leadtimes!

None of these innovative solutions would have been achieved so efficiently or effectively using traditional manufacturing methods. The ability to design and develop prototypes quickly, allowed time for validation and approval from relevant bodies before full-scale manufacturing began.

No doubt helping to save lives during a global pandemic!


Recommended reading: A report by Deloitte titled: “3D opportunity in medical technology: Additive manufacturing comes to life” provides some great insights into AM for the MedTech market.

Oct 15, 2015

Conquering Space with 3D Printing

‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’.  Immortal words uttered nearly fifty years ago on the first voyage to the moon.  That first trip was a huge step for science and demonstrated what some of the greatest minds of their generation could achieve.  There is still a lot of the moon that remains unexplored, and with the help of 3D printing, we’re going back.


3D Printed Rutherford Engine

Two companies, California based Moon Express, and New Zealand’s Rocket Lab Ltd are working together to put a robotic rover on the moon to collect HD footage.  The rocket they are using is a far cry from the kind used in 1969, with the engine being designed and developed to take advantage of 3D printing.  They can print and assemble the ‘Rutherford Engine’ in just three days, with the engine chamber, pumps, main propellant valves and injector all being 3D printed.  This not only makes the process fast, but also significantly reduces the weight of the rocket by opening up new design opportunities.

Moon express are planning on sending their rover up in this rocket, and if they can manage it they will be the first privately owned company to achieve a soft lunar landing.  They will also be eligible for Google’s Lunar XPRIZE, a $30 million prize pool for being the first company to land a rover and have it traverse the moon sending back footage.  It will also show the world that space is more accessible than ever, and hopefully inspire a whole new generation of space explorers.

They have until 2017 to launch their rover, but from the footage below, it looks like they are nearly there!


Oct 5, 2015

Spanish Man Receives 3D-Printed Ribcage


Medicine is one of the most exciting applications for 3D printing.  The idea that we can create custom braces, grafts, limb replacements and more that are uniquely shaped to help each individual to overcome whatever ails them is very exciting indeed.  The newest contender for most impressive use of 3D printing is the titanium ribcage.  Designed and built to replace the ribs of a man that had to be removed due to a tumour, the part was specifically printed to match his exact internal geometry.

Ordinarily, it is very difficult to replicate the rib cage due to the complex shape and a flat titanium plate has been the go-to option for the last few decades.  They aren’t ideal, as they can come loose and increase the risk of further harm or complications.  By taking a CT Scan of the man’s chest prior to the surgery, the hospital was able to have a pre-made rib cage replacement sitting ready to go once they had removed the cancerous area.

Rapid Prototyping is perfect for this kind of requirement, as the speed at which the part was required was crucial- time is of the essence, especially with cancer.  They needed a part as fast as possible, and as they were only ever going to build one with these exact dimensions Rapid Prototyping was the obvious choice.  That is the essence of why Rapid Prototyping is such an important part of medical development- we need treatment fast, and it needs to customise to fit everyone’s unique needs.

The video below shows the 3D printed ribs being put together:


Sep 29, 2015

Minesweeping- 3D Printing Helps Clear the Way


Landmines. Every month, 1200 people are maimed, and a further 800 killed throughout the world due to landmines. Landmine removal efforts are clearing about 100,000 mines a year, but at rate it will still be over 1000 years to get them all. The cost of clearing them is huge, with estimates in excess of $50 billion. Worse still, for every 5000 mines cleared, one person will die in the process.

There are over 110 million active landmines all around the world. To put it in context, there is approximately 57 million square miles of land. This means that there are nearly two mines for every one square mile of earth. Of course, the mines are not scattered evenly, with countries like Cambodia having a much higher concentration- 6 million mines to only 112,489 square miles of land- a much scarier 53 mines in a square mile.

But minesweepers have found themselves an unlikely ally in the fight to clear the planet of these dreadful things. Using 3D printing, J. Kim Vandiver and Allen Tan have been working on a way to print demining training aids. Mines are very hard to transport (even deactivated ones) as they are considered ordnance, and as such no airline or courier will go near them. It can be difficult to teach the complicated process of demining without live models- books and charts simply do not cut it. In countries like Cambodia, where the problem is at it’s worst the lack of training tools is even more notable as many of those on the demining teams have little or no formal education to start with. This makes learning such a difficult process from a book even more challenging- and minesweeping is a career in which you absolutely have to know what you are doing.

Using 3D printing, Tan has created a suitcase (below) full of replica land mines. He calls it the Advanced Ordnance Teaching Materials kit. It contains ten 3D printed explosive devices, which he plans to use to teach minesweepers all around the world about defusing the mines safely. It’s already been noticed, with orders in from the UN, PeaceTrees Vietnam, Switzerland’s International Committee for the Red Cross, and even the US Army’s School of Explosive Ordnance Disposal.3dp_landmines_AOTMkit-288x300

Hopefully the work that people like Vandiver and Tan can be built upon and further progress can be made in the fight to clear the world of landmines. The video below shows a group of minesweepers working with the kits- and it is clear even watching them that the level of understanding as to how the mine operates is already improving- giving them the knowledge they need to safely diffuse any mines they encounter.



Sep 22, 2015

3D-Printing Helps Young Girl Breathe Easier

katie parke 3D printed trachea

The last few stories we’ve had about the progress being made in medicine with 3D-printing have been work undertaken in China.  This week, something a little closer to home- a girl from Northern Ireland has recently undergone surgery that was made safer and easier with the help of 3D-printing.

Six-year-old Katie Parke has a condition known as pulmonary alveolar proteinosis, or PAP.  The disease causes a build up of grainy deposits in the lungs, which makes it harder to breathe.  Unfortunately the primary treatment isn’t pleasant, and involves a procedure known as a lung lavage.  Essentially, one lung is ventilated while the other is washed out with a saline solution.  The difficulty arises in finding the correct size of tubes, with surgeons often wasting time trying multiple combinations to ensure the operation is successful.

This time, they performed a CT scan of the area before the surgery and used 3D-printing to create an exact replica of Katie’s trachea.  This let them select the tubes they needed before the operation and ensured that Katie spent as little time as possible under anesthesia and on a ventilator.

Unfortunately, PAP has no cure as of yet, so Katie will have to periodically come in and receive treatment for the rest of her life.  Due to her age she will have grown between each visit and different tubes will be required to fit her trachea.  3D-printing a replica before each surgery will make the procedure easier, reduce the risks involved and improve Katie’s recovery time.

Great Ormond Street has posted a video of a trachea being 3D-printed, which you can watch below.

They are planning to expand their use of 3D-Printing to plan surgeries, improve training and ensure that their patients get the best possible care.

Sep 17, 2015

To Infinity and Beyond!

‘Sure. 3D-Printing can be tricky, but it’s not rocket science’

Actually, it is.  NASA have been testing 3D-printed rocket parts for the last few years, and they are finally starting to see some serious results.  Last month they built a 3D-printed turbopump (a part used to produce a high pressure fluid for feeding a combustion chamber).  The test is on display in the video below.

The cool thing about 3D-printing these parts is that they used half the materials and produced the parts in half the time.  That’s a lot of time and money saved considering the kind of budget space exploration has.

The tricky bit at the moment is ensuring that the parts they make and as strong and dependable as traditionally made parts, which requires significant testing.  Once that is done though the potential for development is incredible.  With future engine design stalled as many of the complex geometries required are not feasible using traditional methods, we are on the verge of a big leap forward in rocket technology.


Sep 9, 2015

China developing 3D-Printed Back Braces

back brace

China is on a roll this month, with 3D-printed hip implants making the news last week, this week there are 3D-printed back braces in the spotlight.  This is yet another excellent medical application that 3D-printing lends itself to in order to meet the growing expectations people have about healthcare.

The Chinese are looking into using the braces to treat conditions such as mild to moderate scoliosis.  Ordinary back braces are clunky, uncomfortable and don’t allow air to circulate- problems that are overcome with a custom brace.  The brace can be designed with minimal extrusion, allowing it to fit under the patients clothes, and can have intricate patterns built in to improve airflow which reduces the buildup of heat, as well as making the brace lighter.

The braces need to be light, but also strong enough to support the realignment of the patient’s back.  Dr Hans-Rudolph Weiss,  an orthopedic surgeon from Germany has been working with the researchers at the National Rehabilitation Aid Research Centre in Beijing and is continuing to develop the braces, working on making them more robust, lighter and less noticeable.  Hopefully his efforts will help further the growing potential in 3D-printing for medical uses, and help make the lives of thousands of people easier.

Sep 3, 2015

Chinese FDA Approve 3D-Printed Hip Implants


Implants are an important medical tool, used for over a century to allow those who have lost the use of a limb through injury or overuse to regain functionality in the limb.  Initial efforts were crude compared to the methods used today, and over time the implants have become more sophisticated- lighter, stronger and better fitting.  Now the parts are being 3D-printed using metal sintering to create better, more tailored parts.

3D-Printing has been growing in importance within the field and now China has approved the use of 3D-printed parts for hip implants.  This is a huge step. as hip implants are one of the most regulated medical devices in China.  Having undergone trials since 2012, the patients who received the implants have seen a vast improvement.  The lighter parts are much more comfortable, and 3D-printing them has proven more affordable than traditional methods.

The secret to the 3D-printed hip joint is in the fact that it is partially hollow, which both allows for and encourages normal bone growth and helps speed up the recovery time for the patient.  No doubt this will be the first of many 3D-printed devices as the Chinese government- and the world- realise the potential impact 3D-printing can have to advance medical technology.

Aug 27, 2015

Hand Drive your Wheelchair with 3D-Printing


The easy accessibility of Rapid Prototyping has opened the doors for development allowing those with ideas that might not otherwise have seen the light of day to make the stage.  That is exactly what has happened with Kate Reed and Nathaniel Tong.  The two designers have teamed up to produce the wheelchair attachment you can see above.  It is a relatively simple attachment which will allow the wheelchair to be powered via a rowing motion.

Lever powered wheelchairs already exist- designed to engage more muscle groups and make getting about easier. However, they can cost up to $10,000.  Compared to this clever attachment, which is open source, costing no more than the price of materials- about $40.  As the pieces are printed, they can be customised to fit the needs of the user- such as being made smaller to fit the hands of a child.

The parts required are relatively simple- six 3D-printed parts, screws, lock nuts, some aluminium pole, a mountain bike brake assembly, a bicycle brake cable and a spring.



Kate and Nathaniel were inspired to create this upon discovering the financial struggles that many wheelchair users face- with statistics placing them as less likely to have jobs and more likely to live in poverty.  They are continuing to work on their hand drive mechanism, improving it’s speed and reliability.