I love to work with creative people. Throughout my career I have had the opportunity to meet many physicians, nurses, and technicians who came to me for design help with their innovative ideas. After asking many questions to try to get a better idea of exactly what they had in mind I would make a sketch or a drawing to see if I had captured their idea correctly. Too often, I found that drawings had their limitations because some people were unable to visualize their idea from 2D or 3D drawing. In those cases, I might make a cardboard mockup but that also had its limitations. The best way to present someone with a prototype of their idea would be to build one, but that often was very expensive.
Building realistic prototypes was always a challenge and there were many times when a 3D printer would have been perfect for the job. Once, a neurologist asked me to design a method of holding a child’s head steady during fMRI studies. After working out a preliminary design that seemed workable, we took it to a model maker who gave us a quote of $5,000 to build one. Although his price was reasonable, we were unable to raise the money to finance the prototype. If I had a 3D printer we probably could have made the device in less than twenty-four hours and for under $10.00. The ability to rapidly create and modify inexpensive plastic prototypes would have helped dozens of youngsters and allowed me to improve the range and quality of our services.
The use of 3D printers in biomedical departments can open up whole new opportunities to expand your services and increase your visibility and respectability within your hospital. Low priced printers are already being used to make custom prosthetic devices and splints. Steven Jaworski of the Clinical Engineering department at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center has designed a tamperproof cable tether which he is able to reproduce in his MakerBot 3D printer. His product saves his hospital money by reducing cable loss. The customizable aspect of 3D printed products makes them an ideal device for hospitals. They are already being used for surgical modeling, customized bone prostheses, specialized airways, and flexible knee joints. Scientists are now developing printers capable of making living tissue and organs for use in transplants.
Although this technology is still in its early phases of development there are moderately priced devices that are within budgetary range of most biomedical departments. This is an incredible opportunity for you to get involved in this new technology and take a leadership role in introducing it to your hospitals.
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