For years, 3D-printing technology has been employed primarily for its rapid prototyping abilities. For miniature models of eventual solutions, it was great. For actual implementation and long-term use, not so much.
In 2016, that began to change. Over the last 12 months, 3D printing has found a host of new applications, particularly in the medical field. For the next 12 months, Formlabs’ David Lakatos told us we can expect more of this innovation. We sat down with the 3D printing company’s chief product officer at the 2017 CES show to learn more about what is next for Formlabs and the 3D-printing industry as a whole.
Last year, the Boston-based startup turned its attention not just upon more advanced 3D printers, but also on more advanced materials and software. After all, it’s only with these additional innovations, Lakatos pointed out, that 3D-printed objects can be put to further use. Formlabs came out with a total of 10 new 3D printing materials, including flexible materials and those that could withstand high temperatures up to 290 degrees Celcius. With these new materials came the ability to make brand new objects — specifically, prosthetics.
Enter Lyman Connor, a General Electric engineer who was inspired to make 3D printed prosthetics after meeting a young boy during a hospital visit a few years ago. The problem with many prosthetics today, Lakatos explained, is that they are neither customizable nor affordable. But with 3D printing, this has changed. In fact, Connor used a Formlabs printer to produce a new kind of prosthetic hand that can not only be specially designed to fit its wearer’s specific needs but is far less expensive than any option in the past. In December, Connor fitted his very first patient with a Formlabs-printed hand.
“What we’re seeing here is the start of something new,” Lakatos told us. 3D printing has opened new doors when it comes to digital manufacturing. Indeed, Lakatos said, a one-person operation may soon be able to produce the same output as a small factory. As the barriers to this sort of production are gradually lowered with technologies from companies like 3D printing, important devices like prosthetics may become more accessible. Now that a hand has been 3D printed, the next step looks to be the elbow, then the shoulder blade, and shoulder, Lakatos said.
So what’s next for Formlabs? “It’s our job to push the envelope and go further,” the Lakatos said. “We want to go towards applications where you can 3D print something that can be used for six months, a year, and even longer.”