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3D Print Labs in Hospitals

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Are you interested in setting up your own print lab in a hospital or other healthcare institution? We can help with that! In what follows, we discuss what you need to keep in mind when installing your own 3D print lab.

What to Consider?

In his article by 3D Heals, Todd Pietila outlines the benefits of implementing a 3D printing service in hospitals. He states that 3D printing lead times are reduced compared to outsourcing methods. An in-house print lab also helps build knowledge and drive innovation within the hospital.

However, a big challenge is technical expertise and implementation of the innovation in clinical workflows. Choosing a technology that is right for your clinic can be difficult.

With the wide range of technologies on the market, all have pros and cons. When deciding what technology to choose, for either in house printing or when outsourcing these, considerations include but are not limited to: material selection, accuracy, cost of machine & materials, maintenance requirements & post-processing requirements.

  • How will 3D printing be funded? Charitable donation, fundraising, sponsorship, education.

  • Internal skills sets & personnel: will new hires be required?

  • Internal communications & involvement: how will surgeons request models, what teams will be involved?

  • 3D printing workflow software: consider cost and if a single or multiple software solution is required.

  • Image processing & segmentation: medical imaging can present some complex challenges in terms of automated segmentation.

  • Model production: 3D print post-production requirements can include model preparation, cleaning, and smoothing.

Hardware Technologies

When deciding upon a 3D printer for medical models, ascertain first what the model will be used for (e.g. surgical education, visualization, pre-operative planning, drilling and cutting) as this determines the type of printer required (SLA, SLS, FDM, etc.). The intended use of the 3D printed product determines what material should be used.

  • PLA & ABS is low-cost material, good for visualizing and good for rapid prototyping.

  • Photopolymer resin is suitable for visualization, cutting and drilling. It is highly effective for combining different colors and can print to 25 microns. Materials can be biocompatible. Also, materials are available in clear through to black and come in a variety of Shore A hardness.

  • Gypsum sand is great for creating a visual model in many colors (not including clear). The material can only be used for visual representation as the resulting model is very fragile and will break under pressure.

  • Nylon provides high strength and stiffness and is a great material for prototypes and manufacturing. The material is biocompatible and is more suitable for 3D printing complex parts

3Dcreationlab has further advice on choosing the correct materials. In this article, you can read more about the different types of 3D printing processes.

Software Technologies

The preparation, storage, and design of 3D printed artifacts in the medical space is driven by different types of software. The PACS system is at the heart of the process looking after the storage of the images that are ultimately used to generate models.

Medical images are typically captured in 2D ‘slices’. These must be converted into a 3D model. The 3D model can then be prepared for printing. There are a number of unique concerns at this stage that separate 3D printing from other applications such as visualization and VR/AR.

Many software packages exist to allow medical professionals to identify the required anatomy in a set of images (segmentation). The aim of this stage is to identify the boundaries of the anatomy that is required to be printed from the rest of the images.

Once the images have been segmented the volume labeled as the required volume is converted into a 3D mesh. A mesh is the 3D surface of the volume. This mesh is now ready to be processed in preparation for printing. A number of technical issues can occur at this stage that prevents printing. 3D design software is typically used at this stage to identify and rectify these problems. They involve the application of many geometric algorithms to fix the mesh and make it printable.

Data management and security are important considerations for all healthcare practitioners. At this stage, it is important to consider how to integrate the request for the creation of a 3D print with the existing workflow of the practitioner.

Many systems still work on manual requests for initiation, therefore care needs to be taken when managing multiple requests. Some kind of storage system to manage inbound requests and manage load is necessary.

Data minimization is one technique to ensure only the required amount of information is passed from the PACS system to the 3D printing laboratory for execution of the request.

Stages:

  • PACS integration/management

  • Image segmentation

  • DICOM convert volume to mesh

  • Post-processing: fixing volume

  • Prep for printing

  • Print management

  • Data management

  • Quality control

  • Assurance

Physical Location

It is important to have a dedicated print room that is maintained and kept clean. A minimum space required for a desktop printer and processing station is 3x2 meters space, with suitable ventilation. For larger printers, a space of 5x4 meters would be suitable for one printer and processing station with suitable ventilation.

When including more printers, the required space will not multiply per meter above. In most cases, added space required is 1x2 meters per printer. For more guidance on managing multiple printers, see advice from Formlabs.

Keep the print room clean. Every surface should be suitable to wipe clean and a lint/dust free environment should be maintained. This helps to keep the printers in optimum working order.

Each printer has specific Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements. However, as standard every print room should have the following:

  • Protective eyewear including UV safe eyewear

  • Protective latex free gloves

  • Eyewash station

  • Protective wear for clothing: disposable aprons, lab coats, and sleeve protectors

3D Printer Ownership in Healthcare Institutions

Ownership will be determined based on how the 3D printer will be used.

Within a manufacturing environment, engineers would be best suited to the role. Similarly, for medical imaging model creation, biomedical engineers/scientists or people with an anatomy background should be considered.

Within hospital environments, prosthetics and maxillofacial departments are often early adopters to 3D printing trials and experiments as the technology lends itself effectively to these specialties.

Radiologists may lead 3D printing as historically the radiology department bridges knowledge from medical imaging to physicians.

When deciding upon ownership, consider if multiple departments will share the resource, the process by which 3D printing work would be requested and produced within hospitals, budgets required and how the operation would grow in the future.

Patient-Specific Medical 3D Models by Axial3D

Our goal is to make the use of anatomical 3D models routine practice for surgeries around the world. This is made possible with our highly precise medical 3D visualizations and printed models that are exact replicas of patient anatomy. We segment 2D patient scans and convert them into 3D visuals and printable files in our Segmentation-as-a-Service software. We can then print them in our print lab, or through our partners. The print-ready files can also be output into a hospital’s print lab. Consult our experts to find out how we can help set up your print lab.

Up Next: Types of 3D Printing Processes