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How Rapid Prototyping is Employed in the Medical Industry?

What is Medical Prototyping?

Before explaining Medical Prototyping, we have to explain what “Prototyping”means. Prototyping is simply the procedure of designing a basic version of a product or a machine for the sake of visual representation and the creation of ideas. Prototypes are divided into the categories – functional and non-functional. With this explanation, medical prototyping can simply be explained as developing an early or initial sample of health technology products which gives a chance to test-run and assess the product.

This helps in improving the quality of future creations/designs and it also gives the designer and creator an idea of what the final result would look like.

Why Does the Medical Industry Need Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping is required in the design and creation of medical devices as it can yield important feedback for the team in charge of the design, decrease the time and cost required for development, stimulate future improvements for the product and boost customer satisfaction.

It can also help eliminate future problems that may arise when the product is released which will overall decrease the cost of maintenance in the future.

How To Do Prototyping In Medical Industry

There are lots of techniques to design prototypes for medical devices within a short period. Below are two of those methods in rapid prototyping services:

  • CNC MACHINING: CNC Machining is a subtractive procedure that gives a swift way of manufacturing highly precise and practical models. The best type of CNC machining is the five-axis CNC machining as it reduces the cost of designing prototypes with intricate make-up. It also allows experimenting with numerous materials which include aluminium alloys, stainless steel and hard thermoplastics. Also, confer with a CNC quality control expert in ensuring that the machined parts prototypes are of high quality.

  • 3D Printing: 3D printing, is also called additive manufacturing. This is an additive process of designing a three-dimensional object layer-by-layer through the use of a computer-created design. In simpler words, it is an additive process in which built up layers of materials are used to create a 3D version. This is in contrast with CNC machining which is a subtractive procedure. In subtractive creation processes, a final model is brought out from a bigger block of material, therefore wastage is inevitable. 3D printing reduces material wastage in the process of production. It is also suitable for the creation of intricate, bespoke items, which makes it a darling for rapid prototyping. 

Materials that are used in Medical prototyping

There are numerous materials that are often employed during medical devices prototyping. Some of them include Plastic and Metal; the types of plastic and metal materials will be explained below:

Plastic:

  • ABS: Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, often shortened to ABS, is an opaque engineering thermoplastic material used industrially in electronic housing, auto parts, consumer products, pipe fittings and lego toys. It is widely sought after for industrial use due to its resistance to impact and high temperatures (can withstand between 20 degrees Celsius and 80 degrees Celsius). While there is a high level of difficulty in printing it when compared with PLA, it is still a material that is widely used. It is also a good choice because it can be easily machined, sanded, glued and painted – which makes it a good choice of material for prototyping.          
  • PP: Polypropylene is a material that reduces cost during production. It is medical grade plastic material and it is often used where steam-sterilized medical devices are required. It has a resistance to steam sterilization coupled with mechanical performance characteristics which includes durability for the total amount of cycles it can be used. PP plastic is used in the medical line to create drug-delivery systems, non-woven fabrics and hospital disposables. It is also used to create syringes, pouches, test tubes and pipettes.
  • PMMA: Polymethyl Methacrylate or PMMA is a thermoplastic with high transparency, flexibility, and chemical resistance. It is weather-resistant and light weight and possesses a good impact stability that is higher than glass and polystyrene. This makes it a perfect choice of material for creating clear and sturdy prototypes. 
  • PC: PC or Polycarbonates is a material that has a variety of uses and it is well known for its impact resistant properties and its ability to withstand high-temperature. Due to its heat resistance characteristics, they can be used at room temperature without the fear of cracking or breaking. This makes it very useful for creating medical device prototypes. 
  • PA: Polyethene is a  flexible and sturdy thermoplastic with various uses. It has a high resistance to impact and chemicals, alongside a low moisture absorption which makes it an excellent medical-grade plastic. It does not maintain or keep bacteria which makes a perfect choice for medical device prototyping.

Metals:

  • Stainless Steel 316L: This is a material that is widely used in chemical and petrochemical industries. It is used in food processing, pharmaceutical equipment, medical devices, potable water, treatment of wastewater, marine applications, and architectural designs in seashore and urban areas. In the medical field, It is often used to create surgical steel because it is hypoallergenic and it does not rust.
  • Titanium Grade 5: It is often used in aerospace and jewellery due to its lightweight properties, high strength, and resistance to corrosion from various ranges of acids, alkalis, and chemicals. It is much stronger than the usually seen grades of steel. Grade 5 titanium is an alloy made with 6% aluminium and 4% vanadium. It has high fracture resistance therefore it is used in creating dental implants. AS well as custom CNC machining Titanium hip replacements and bone plates.

Conclusion

Designing useful clinical products and putting them into the market is the goal of many medical device companies. However, the need of a prototype cannot be overemphasized as it helps in identifying potential issues and addressing them before they hit the market.

In the words of professor John Marshall, Frost Professor of Ophthalmology at the institute of Ophthalmology, University College London, he said; 

“If you are doing a piece of research that may result in a potential treatment regimen and you require a device or hardware in order to achieve that, De facto, you will develop a device in the laboratory, and in a sense, that is the first prototype.”

Granted that the device may be “rough and ready” or may even be totally ineffective, it can act as the prototype for important feedback. By building a prototype, cost of production can be reduced.

After the prototype has been designed and the various tests performed, you have to explain the important information – How safe the device is, how well it works, and how profitable it would become when it hits the market.

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