Carbon's 3D printing technology reins in production costs for medical device part

March 09, 2018

Debates on the potential of 3D printing in the medical space often revolve around the undeniable value of patient-specific manufacturing and the capability of additive manufacturing to produce geometries that would be difficult, if not impossible, to produce via conventional means. Cost typically doesn’t come up. A case study recently published by 3D printing technology company Carbon (Redwood City, CA) shows that, depending on the application, additive manufacturing also can favorably impact production costs.

Carbon, Biolase
By switching from urethane casting to 3D printing for the production of clips similar to the ones shown here, medical device manufacturer Biolase stands to save more than $10,000 per year in overall production costs.

Biolase Inc. (Irvine, CA), which supplies laser systems and dental imaging equipment, including CAD/CAM scanners, recently partnered with contract manufacturer Dinsmore Inc. (Irvine, CA) to replace a crucial part in a medical device. (The companies did not offer any information on the specific device except to say that it would be launched soon.) The part, previously produced using urethane casting, was replaced with a 3D manufactured part made on Carbon’s M Series printers.

Biolase had traditionally made parts such as the clip shown here using urethane casting. This traditional manufacturing method is used to make low-volume urethane polymer parts. Unlike injection molding, urethane casting uses silicone molds and does not require hard tooling. However, the turnaround time for these types of urethane cast parts typically can be five to eight weeks. Although the process is cheaper than injection molding, the parts are still expensive to make and iterate, writes Carbon in the press release.

Thousands of these parts will be used annually, so cost is an important consideration. To make high volumes of parts with the traditional urethane casting process, product development teams need to make multiple master patterns and incur tooling and associated set-up costs. The tools typically have a limited run life of 25 to 30 cast parts per tool and a three-month shelf life. Biolase was willing to explore an alternative manufacturing solution that was faster and with a lower cost of going into production.

Biolase contracted Dinsmore Inc. to solve this turnaround and cost challenge. Leveraging its experience working with Carbon M series 3D printers and various Carbon materials, Dinsmore decided to make the clip using Carbon’s RPU material. The material enabled the 3D manufactured part to meet form and fit requirements and to exceed the performance requirements as measured in strength and rigidity of the part.

Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) technology, enabled by its photo-chemical CLIP process, uses digital light projection, oxygen permeable optics and programmable liquid resins to produce parts with the mechanical properties, resolution and surface finish that other 3D printing methods struggle to achieve. DLS-printed parts are much more like injection molded parts, said Carbon.

In addition to meeting parts requirements, the Carbon process enabled Dinsmore to slash timelines. It was able to produce the part and secure approval from the Biolase product development and quality teams within two weeks, compared with the five to eight weeks typical of urethane casting.

Biolase expects to save more than $10,000 per year in overall cost of production by eliminating the need for masters, tooling and set-up costs associated with urethane casting, according to Carbon.

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