GE Healthcare officially opened Europe’s first 3D printing lab dedicated to medical products in Uppsala, Sweden, today. The Design and Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center breaks down the wall that has traditionally separated the research and development teams behind industry-leading new ideas and the manufacturing teams responsible for realizing those innovations, said a press release from the company.
“We are exploring opportunities where additive manufacturing can bring cost savings and technical improvements to our supply chain and products,” explained Andreas Marcstrom, Manager of Additive Engineering at GE Healthcare’s Uppsala site. “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.”
The center is largely the brainchild of Marcstrom and his colleague Klas Marteleur, Principle Engineer. In June 2016, while working as part of GE Healthcare Life Sciences’ Research and Development team in Uppsala, they began to formulate a new approach to 3D printing in the healthcare industry. Rather than applying the process piecemeal to print surgical models or body parts, they saw an opportunity to expand 3D printing (aka additive manufacturing) into every facet of healthcare. Their concept was to improve the supply chain and product design by bringing together engineers and manufacturers in one collaborative space with an array of tools. That became a reality today.
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The team currently is working with biotech company Amgen to test the performance of a chromatography column, which is used to develop biopharmaceuticals, a range of drugs used to treat diseases including cancer and immune disorders. Biopharmaceuticals are the world’s fastest growing class of medicines, according to GE Healthcare, but the development and manufacturing processes are demanding and complicated. The custom 3D-printed column is now being tested to see if it can be used to improve the purification stage of biopharmaceutical production. If it's successful, drugs that are used against some of the deadliest diseases could reach the market and patients faster, said GE Healthcare.
The center combines advanced manufacturing technologies, such as metal and polymer printers and collaborative robots, or “cobots”, with traditional machining equipment. Advanced manufacturing engineers work with R&D teams in Uppsala to ensure additive expertise is available from the start of product design. Teams then design, test and install 3D-printed parts for GE Healthcare products and in collaboration with customers.
“We’re making the impossible, possible,” said Marteleur. “We’re doing it faster, with [fewer] materials, so it’s environmentally friendly, and at a lower cost.”