3D scanning and 3D printing at a level suitable for surgical models still remains a rarity at universities. With the need to stay relevant and aware of new technology and tools, academia continues to form partnerships. Echoing a similar model across campuses, Emily Carr University and the University of Alberta formed their GRAND partnership for developing 3D printed surgical models conducive to research aimed at reducing operating time and improving patient safety.
Proprietary materials for printed models continues to incur high costs, so the collaboration sought alternatives and developed one out of their partnership. The in-house-developed printing material drastically cut costs. The formula reduces printing material costs from around $50 per pound to between $0.50 and $0.80 per pound. With such a remarkable disparity, interest has been piqued. Led by Emily Carr faculty and AD-NODE affiliated researchers Keith Doyle, Philip Robbins and Helene Day Fraser at the University’s Intersections Digital Studios, they developed the new printing powder. Doyle expressed his excitement: “After a semester’s work, we have a viable material that can be used in our standard powder-based printers. It’s very exciting for us that there is potential to further the [U of A] research, and to integrate the design process here with the pedagogical aspects of surgery.”
An example of the partnership at work can been seen when after a site visit by a U of A researcher, an Emily Carr team produced models based on CT scans of hip and pelvic bones with the low-cost powder. They conducted tests to print the scans to a resolution that would make such printing viable, based on speed and cost, for a medical user.
The partnership has branched into other avenues as would be expected after such low-cost powder development. Doyle again commented: “We have a number of emerging [industry] partnerships in the works. We’re really looking to exploit this material in another way, and really explore the potential for low-cost manufacturing.”
The researchers are working on an alternative binder as this goes to further reduce material costs. While there are hopes for proliferation and marketing, medical research is not a bad place to start. It is never a bad thing when medical costs go down. From research to mainstream implementation, the trickle-down effect would be welcome just as the low-cost powder is to GRAND.