Instrumentation Laboratory, Bedford, MA, is a worldwide manufacturer of in vitro diagnostic instruments, related reagents, and controls for use in hospitals and independent clinical laboratories. The company’s product lines include critical care systems, hemostasis systems, and information management systems.

Fig. 1 – Examining the prototype created using the FDM process, which helped optimize the design for injection molding.

The company developed its hemostasis testing system, the ACL TOP 500 to offer a lower price point than previous models. In the development process, the company re-engineered many components to make them less expensive to manufacture.

Like many other companies, Instrumentation Laboratory used a virtual prototyping process before production. “Typically, we develop design concepts in CAD software and discuss them with our manufacturing engineering team and molding suppliers to determine the most cost-efficient manufacturing option,” said Scott Notaro, Manager of Mechanical Engineering at Instrumentation Laboratory.

“But difficulties in conceptualizing a CAD model can lead to time-consuming revisions. This reduces time in the development schedule and allows for only the most expensive parts to be addressed. This may result in a cost reduction of approximately 30 percent, but we wanted to achieve a greater reduction on this project,” he said.

Choosing a System and Moving Ahead

About the time the project was kicking off, Instrumentation Laboratory was considering the purchase of an additive manufacturing system. After careful consideration, they chose the Fortus 3D Production System, made by Stratasys, because it and allowed them the ability to easily produce parts in production- grade thermoplastics—something other additive manufacturing technologies cannot do. The system uses fused deposition modeling (FDM), extruding molten thermoplastic in fine layers to build parts layer by layer. (See Figure 1)

“We decided to purchase the machine and use this project as a test-case to see if rapid prototyping could help improve the design engineering process,” said Carl Chelman, R&D Model Shop Supervisor.

Instrumentation Laboratory discovered that FDM prototypes help engineers move more quickly to an optimized design, and allow for incorporation of greater contributions from the manufacturing team and suppliers. “Having parts in hand, our manufacturing team was able to identify more ways to reduce costs,” said Chelman. “And, mold vendors provided additional ideas about consolidating parts to save tooling and production costs. The prototypes significantly improved communications with our mold vendors so rework was not required on a single mold.”

On another project, a six-part sheet-metal assembly was challenging to visualize due to its multiple bends. After producing an FDM prototype, engineers were able to convert it to an injection-molded assembly with only two parts, for an 80 percent cost reduction.

Instrumentation Laboratory’s examination of prototyping methods assured them that in-house prototyping was the right step to improve time-to-market and return on investment.

“We were able to re-engineer more than 25 parts at a cost-savings, far greater than could be realized with traditional virtual prototyping methods,” says Notaro. “FDM helped us achieve a manufacturing cost reduction of 40 percent. That’s 10 percent more than the traditional approach would have offered.”

That 10 percent savings amounted to $600,000 per year. Extended over the 12-year life of the product, they said that this represents a $7.2 million cost reduction. In addition, they were able to save $50,000 in mold rework and deliver the product to market six months earlier than expected.

Medical Manufacturing Uses

3D printing technology assists medical experts in a range of applications, from medical device development to anatomical modeling and customized surgical guides. In cases where complex, multi-faceted surgical procedures are required, the ability to predetermine the best possible outcome is key. From surgical guides to highly detailed multi-material models that display internal body organs, 3D printing technology is revolutionizing surgery planning.

Using 3D printing systems for anatomical modeling allows surgical teams to evaluate several different treatment scenarios before deciding on a plan. 3D printed models are widely used in medical modeling applications because of their high accuracy, fast build time, and ease of model sterilization. The models are highly resilient, enabling drilling and fixing of screws and model plates that simulates human bone tissue. The detail and accuracy of advanced 3D printing technology makes it possible to build complex models of human anatomical structures even more delicate than bone, such as blood vessels.

The technology allows for the design, prototyping, and testing of new orthopedic solutions, and is particularly helpful for determining the functional requirements of the very small parts often involved in orthopedics.

The ability to produce rapid prototypes in-house cuts medical equipment development time in half and accelerates time to market. 3D printing technology allows medical teams to prove concepts and check fit, form, and function before committing to a solution. It accelerates product development cycles allowing teams to manufacture different design concepts in parallel, and print parts overnight, unsupervised to bypass delays. In addition to prototypes, 3D printing can be used to produce concept models, end–use parts, and manufacturing tools.

This article was contributed by Stratasys, Inc., Eden Prairie, MN, a leader in 3D printing and direct digital manufacturing. For more information, Click Here