Here’s How GE Healthcare is Cutting out the Middle Man with 3D Printing

3D printing is set to revolutionise the face of medical device manufacturing, and could potentially transform supply chain logistics for the industry.

The innovative tech enables fast and efficient assembly of customised products, significantly reducing the costs of production. In addition, if manufacturers can place 3D printers close to customers, this could potentially remove the need for complex distribution networks, reducing overall logistics costs.

3D printing – or “additive manufacturing” – is already being leveraged on an increasingly large scale within the healthcare industry with the production of prosthetic implants, artificial limbs, and pharmaceuticals. In fact, a new report by Transparency Market Research forecasts growth of around 18% a year in the global 3D medical devices market to reach $3.5 billion by 2025.

Now, with its new 3D printing lab – the Innovative Design and Advanced Manufacturing Technology Centre for Europe – in Uppsala, Sweden, GE Healthcare is looking to be a leader in this rapidly-growing space.

GE Healthcare’s First European 3D Printing and Design Centre

The centre was the brainchild of Andreas Marcstrom and Klas Marteleur, who began to envision a new way to approach 3D printing in the healthcare industry while working as part of the GE Healthcare Life Sciences Research and Development team. Observing how researchers and physicians around the globe were already using 3D technologies to plan surgeries and even replace body parts with 3D printed components, Marcstrom and Marteleur believed there was opportunity for the technology to come into play earlier in the process, and decided to bring 3D design and printing to more facets of healthcare.

They envisioned a space where engineers and manufacturers could collaborate under one roof to develop and produce parts for healthcare equipment. Marcstrom and Marteleur believed that producing these parts using 3D printing technology would mean they would reach researchers, biopharmaceutical makers, labs, and ultimately hospitals faster and last longer – significantly improving the healthcare supply chain.

Eventually, the pair ordered their first 3D printer, and less than a year and a half later, GE Healthcare’s first 3D printing and design centre was opened in October 2017.

Bringing Cost Savings and Technical Improvements to the Supply Chain and Products

The new centre combines traditional machining equipment with advanced 3D printing manufacturing technology such as metal and polymer printers and collaborative robots. It also brings manufacturing teams and research and development teams together in one collaborative space, creating a unique partnership. Marcstrom – now Manager of Additive Engineering at the GE Healthcare – says this provides an exceptional opportunity to develop a new approach to 3D printing.

“We are exploring opportunities where additive manufacturing can bring cost savings and technical improvements to our supply chain and products,” explains Marcstrom. “We believe having design and advanced manufacturing expertise together with a range of equipment under one roof will make a difference in how quickly we can bring new products to market in the future.”

Advanced manufacturing techniques like 3D printing can indeed deliver significant improvements to the manufacturing process. For example, one single 3D printed part can combine as many as 20 different parts into the one. Reducing the number of parts in a manufacturing process improves performance – and in industries like biomanufacturing, where hundreds of different parts can often be used in the assembly of a single product, such a system can rapidly accelerate the launch and production of innovative new products.

“Simply printing a part doesn’t really deliver that much improvement to a product or process,” says Marcstrom. “You have to re-think the entire design – to do this, you need your R&D teams and your additive manufacturing engineers working from the start of the development process – our centre in Uppsala ensures that critical step.”

3D Medical Models

GE Healthcare has also been working to simplify the preparation of 3D medical models, and has released new software that can be utilised in hospitals to create 3D organ models.

The software works seamlessly with GE Advantage Workstation systems – which are already used in many hospitals around the world. The software takes data from CT scans, MRI and X-ray, and then renders the anatomy as a 3D image which can then be used to print 3D print models of hearts, kidneys, lungs, livers, and other organs.

West Kendall Baptist Hospital in Miami, USA, was one of the first hospitals to take advantage of the new GE Healthcare 3D printing software. “It is helpful, especially with all the landmarks ahead of time, to facilitate the discussion among the clinical team on procedure planning, the optimal approach and the materials,” said Dr Ricardo Cury, Director of Cardiac Imaging at the hospital. “In the past, it would take several days to get the images back. The advantage of the new software is it’s in the same workstation where the technologists already do work on 3D images. The steps are a lot quicker and easier.”

Over 100 hospitals have now ordered the software, which, aside from organs, can also be used to 3D print models of bones and muscles. GE Healthcare says that as more and more hospitals adopt the software, more patients will benefit as quicker, safer, and more precise surgeries can be planned in advance. It will also become easier for doctors to share files with each other across the medical community, and make 3D models available for planning and educational purposes.

Final Thoughts

GE healthcare has been a leader in developing transformational medical technologies and services for many years. Although the technology is still in its relative infancy, 3D printing is most certainly on the rise. Combined with its software products for hospitals, GE Healthcare’s new centre in Sweden will be pushing innovations in this space forwards and revolutionising the company’s supply chain.

The Uppsala centre joins GE Healthcare’s other advanced manufacturing and engineering facility in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. Teams in both centres will collaborate together, sharing knowledge and new ideas.

You can hear Christophe Suizdak, Global Supply Chain Strategy & Digital Transformation Leader at GE Healthcare, speak at LogiMed 2018 this October at Novotel Amsterdam City, Amsterdam.

Download the Agenda today for more information and insights.

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