GE Healthcare has opened a 3D printing lab in Uppsala, Sweden, which will use technologies including 3D printing and robotics to speed up the launch of healthcare products.
The centre combines advanced manufacturing technology, such as metal and polymer printers and collaborative robots, with traditional machining equipment.
A key to realising the advantages of 3D printing is to ensure the technology is considered from the start of a product design, and the new lab will design, test and produce 3D-printed parts for GE Healthcare products and prepare for final transfer to manufacturing.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, offers significant benefits. For example, a 3D printed part can combine 20 conventional parts into a single component, and improve performance.
Reducing the number of parts in the manufacturing process benefits sectors such as the biomanufacturing industry, where the processes and manufacturing equipment are complex and made up of hundreds different parts.
“We are exploring opportunities where additive can bring cost savings and technical improvements to our supply chain and products,” said Andreas Marcstrom, manager of additive engineering at the Uppsala lab. “Simply printing a part doesn’t really deliver that much improvement to a product or process. You have to re-think the entire design.”
To do this, R&D teams and additive manufacturing engineers have to work together from the start of the development process.
GE is working with the biotechnology company Amgen to test the performance of a customised chromatography column, for use in biopharmaceutical manufacturing.
The 3D printed column is now being tested to see if it will help improve the purification stage of the biomanufacturing process.
The GE Healthcare advanced manufacturing engineering team has also developed and programmed multiple collaborative robots that are now installed in GE Healthcare factories globally and are improving efficiency in production lines.
The centre in Uppsala joins GE Healthcare’s other advanced manufacturing and engineering centre in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The two will collaborate, sharing knowledge and working on new design ideas.
Additive Manufacturing or 3-D printing, works by printing layers of material on top of each other following a digital 3D model. This process makes it less wasteful than traditional subtractive manufacturing in which material is machined off from a material blank to make the final product.
The flexibility of 3-D printing underpins product designs that increase manufacturing efficiency and that could not be achieved with traditional manufacturing.
Across supply chains, single 3D printed parts are replacing multiple, complex, expensive parts, offering technical improvements, waste reduction and cost savings.