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3D printing makes rapid prototyping a reality

Toronto, November 8, 2016

By Greg Winson

Flowers and a hand produced by the ProJet 3510 HDPlus 3D printer

Left: Flowers produced by the ProJet 3510 HDPlus 3D printer show the great level of detail possible with 3D printing. Right: A model of a human hand produced by the 3D printer. (Photos courtesy of St. Michael’s Research Facilities)

St. Michael’s Hospital’s first 3D printer promises many advancements, including more cost-effective surgical tools, safer surgeries and improved patient communication.

The ProJet 3510 HDPlus 3D printer was donated to the Research Core Facility for the use of all hospital staff by Dr. Michael Cusimano, a researcher and neurosurgeon who acquired it as part of a Cummings Foundation grant.

“Physicians can perform a simulation using an accurate model before performing surgery on the patient, and they can better communicate ideas to patients and colleagues,” said Dario Bogojevic, a research core facilities specialist with Research Facilities. “We’ve printed an entire human skull based on CT imaging,”

The 3D printer is also proving valuable for rapid prototyping of items such as surgical tools. Bogojevic is working with Dr. Joao Rezende-Neto, a trauma-acute care general surgeon at St. Michael’s and an associate scientist in the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science, to develop a surgical tool to perform a tracheostomy.

The device currently used is made of metal. The cost of producing this device is much higher than it would be from plastic. It is also more difficult to make design changes to metal devices.

“Creating the device from plastic is much more versatile,” said Dr. Rezende-Neto. Making changes to the prototype is as easy as clicking a mouse on a computer. “The 3D printer is an important tool to translate metal into plastic and vice versa.”

The ProJet 3510 HDPlus 3D printer

The ProJet 3510 HDPlus 3D printer
Dr. Rezende-Neto’s surgical tool prototype is scheduled to be tested within the next year.

The printer has one of the best resolutions for commercially available printers. The “printing,” or the creation of an acrylic plastic model, can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days, depending on the complexity of the model.

The first step is to create a 3D model using computer-aided design software. Data from medical imaging such as MRI and CT scans can also be used to create 3D models of bones and organs for 3D printing. The models are saved in a file format suitable for the 3D printer. 3D printing technology uses a layer-based method where an object is made by adding successive layers of material to form the physical part. The printer can produce a model up to 298 x 185 x 203 millimetres and its highest resolution is 16 microns in vertical direction.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.