„A lot of Movement Takes Place on the Market at the Moment“

Andrej Grzesiak is spokesman of this alliance of Fraunhofer institutes called Rapid Prototyping - a platform for the core competences of these nine institutes combining the areas engineering, materials, technologies and quality. COMPAMED.de spoke with the expert about potentials of rapid prototyping in medical technology and about organs coming out of the printer.

COMPAMED.de: Mr Grzesiak, nine different research institutes consolidated and this is called Fraunhofer Alliance Rapid Prototyping. That must truly be a trendsetting technology.

Andrej Grzesiak: The procedure is being used mostly in the automobile industry and for product development in a whole variety of different businesses in order to produce prototypes out of 3D data quickly and inexpensively. However, a few years ago a new development started, new areas are being discovered including medical technology.

It is important though to differentiate between terminologies: rapid prototyping is an umbrella-term that has been established for producing prototypes. Another division concerned with the same technology manufactures end products and this is therefore called rapid manufacturing. But these are only terminologies since the process of rapid prototyping and manufacturing follows the same principle.

COMPAMED.de: And that is?

Grzesiak: To create objects by building it up layer upon layer. Imagine to cut an apple into thin slices. Rapid prototyping would be the process of putting it together again - layer upon layer.

COMPAMED.de: How does that work?

Grzesiak: With laser based manufacturing that is often used for objects in medical technology the centre piece is metal powder that is being deposited in layers. A laser melt and hardens the powder in a controlled way so that a certain object is created. 3D data control the laser and determine how the object is supposed to look like.

COMPAMED.de: How do you assess the development of rapid prototyping on the market for medical technology?

Grzesiak: It is important to subdivide the market that exists for medical technology: We have the area of plant construction where models and prototypes are needed very similar to those used for the automobile industry. On the other hand, implants produced from ceramic or metal powders, models helping in surgery or artificial dentition almost belong to the area of rapid manufacturing. Another, smaller field opens up for prostheses.

COMPAMED.de: Which medical segments will benefit most from rapid prototyping?

Grzesiak: The market for artificial dentition made out of titanium and cobalt chromium is developing rapidly. Several companies in Germany are already using rapid prototyping processes in this area. Organ printing could one day become very profitable in regenerative medicine - entire functioning organs are supposed to be created with rapid prototyping. This idea is still a great dream of the future and this will not happen during the next ten years but maybe such a development may not be that far away.

COMPAMED.de: Up to now, 3D data being the basis for rapid prototyping has been generated via computer tomography which is connected to relatively high radiation. Are there any intentions to get proper access to data from magnetic resonance imaging, the method that does not create ionizing radiation?

Grzesiak: That is quite a disputed topic. Today, CT data are still first choice which is also due to the fact that implants produced with rapid prototyping have not really come into use in hospitals. Another few years will pass until these products will be accepted by doctors and clinics. It is only then that a discussion about CT data versus MRI data becomes truly relevant.

COMPAMED.de: Well, is rapid prototyping a profitable technology in medicine at all?

Grzesiak: Not really at the moment. Many people have still not realized this technology and the products created by rapid prototyping must all still be tested in clinical studies in future and then physicians and hospitals must accept them. A lot of movement takes place on the market at the moment, though. More and more people are discussing and developing process chains further. Today, hearing aids and artificial dentition are standards and this area yiels a lot of money. In future, this will also be true for implants and prostheses and one day possibly also for organ printing.

The interview was conducted by Wiebke Heiss