UNSW MMFI delivers AM solutions with help from Konica Minolta

Konica Minolta Australia is assisting the Materials & Manufacturing Futures Institute (MMFI) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) to address industry needs through the supply and support of 3D printing technology for rapid prototyping and manufacture of end-use products.

The MMFI is an interdisciplinary research hub delivering tangible solutions to emerging global problems by studying, building, and transforming the future of materials innovation and advanced manufacturing. Through the MMFI, Australian manufacturers have access to state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing research and problem-solving skills coupled with the technology to address the barriers and opportunities in material sciences and advanced manufacturing, with diverse applications in printed electronics, transport, energy, information technology, and health.

Professor Sean Li, the Institute’s director, said: “MMFI has the research expertise and infrastructure to support local industry. It also has access to other skills within UNSW such as science, chemistry, electrical engineering, and medical science, providing an even broader skillset that can be tapped. Not only can MMFI come up with a theory, we can use the in-house resources to test it, make changes, and in a short timeframe, produce a practical, real-world solution.”

Matthew Hunter, Innovation Product Marketing Manager at Konica Minolta, said: “There is a renewed focus on onshore manufacturing and a massive opportunity for manufacturers in sectors such as aerospace, defence, automotive, and food and beverage. Therefore, it’s critical to have access to resources and skills such as those available through the MMFI to assist with this without requiring massive investment. MMFI has a unique capability to help local industry produce specialised parts that they may previously have had to source offshore.”

The MMFI houses a 3D Systems ProJet HDMax 3500 and a Markforged ProX DMP 300, provided and supported by Konica Minolta. These were both recently used to ensure smooth transfer of graphite powder along the length of a helical screw in a manufacturing line. From prototyping to the end-use part, the finished tool was delivered successfully and is now being used to manufacture quality composite materials. From the prompt to the prototype to the product, this whole process was completed within two weeks using the expertise and facilities at the MMFI.

Professor Sean Li said, “MMFI is keen to continue working with diverse industries to provide simple and elegant solutions that meet specific, complex requirements. MMFI has the capability to assist with any step of the process, whether it’s just a concept or ready for the production line. MMFI is committed to helping the industry with the creation of real and useful products, with a balance between commercial viability, performance, usability and sustainability.”



Additive Manufacturing Hub case study: Cobalt Design

Cobalt Design made use of 3D printing to create small-scale models for the refurbishment of a railway carriage’s servery café, with support and assistance from AMTIL’s Additive Manufacturing Hub.

Regional rolling stock across Australia and New Zealand is experiencing a surge in refurbishment programs aimed at extending the usable life of the interior spaces and amenities. Vehicle structure (as well as propulsion, braking and so on) are retained, while rejuvenating and refreshing the interior spaces as a means to upgrading the rolling stock or repurposing it for emerging markets, growing needs or new destinations.

The challenge

The traditional method of refurbishing a carriage is to produce 2D CAD drawings and imagery to convey the approach, and to then rely on the experience of manufacturing personnel to implement the designs directly into the carriage at full scale. The process is time-consuming due to a range of issues:

  • Components and brackets are often custom-made due to specific designs and low quantities.
  • Solutions often have to be compromised to be suitable for production requirements.
  • Feedback from stakeholders and management is only possible on a full-scale mock-up or an actual first-iteration 1:1 build.
  • Construction of structures in situ on rolling stock requires optimisation of subassemblies – minimising the number of subassemblies has advantages, but this must be balanced against the weight and size of the subassembly. Currently, this is typically managed ‘on the run’ during reviews of the first build or when a full-scale mock-up is built. Either approach is inefficient, and modifying full-scale structures and components extends development timelines.
  • Rolling stock depots that facilitate the build work often do not have the experience to move quickly through this process as it can be their first exposure to the vehicles being refurbished or to the refurbishment of interior spaces such as serveries (or both).

Project Servo aimed to utilise additive manufacturing to create small-scale models of carriage interior spaces, components and equipment. This would enable stakeholders to communicate and evaluate different equipment alternatives within the space, as well as to test production methodologies and assembly sequences.

The solution

Cobalt Design had been designing a servery café to be installed into a number of refurbished carriages. After the design concept was in development, Cobalt Design needed an effective method to communicate the design to the various project stakeholders, including production, maintenance, café staff and management. Cobalt Design engaged GoProto (ANZ) Pty Ltd to create 1:15 scale models of the interior space, major sub-assemblies and important components such as:

  • Bench workspaces.
  • Serving areas.
  • Storage cupboards and drawers.
  • Food display and warmer units.
  • Walls, door and structure.
  • Food cart and food cart storage options.

The Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) process was chosen as a reliable method to produce accurate models, with high durability, which would enable the servery to be disassembled and reassembled many times. This would be necessary to simulate the different configurations and assembly order options, and gain input by different stakeholders. Quick 3D CAD models were created for the main sub-assemblies, and components of the servery were simplified to approximately 15 robust units able to be pieced together in a Lego-esque manner.

3D CAD images were sent to GoProto for production of the MJF parts. Within three days, parts were completed for Cobalt Design to verify the scale models, before air-freight to a New Zealand-based customer. Therefore, within a fortnight of initiation, the servery concept and various options were being simulated for use and evaluated by team stakeholders.

How the Additive Manufacturing Hub helped

Scale models proved an important tool in achieving approval of the servery design by different stakeholders, offering various advantages:

  • Scale models enabled physical evaluation of the space – not just virtual evaluation via computer.
  • Physical model parts allowed production staff to physically test the assembly order and methodology
  • Robust MJF parts allowed repeated assembly and disassembly, while evaluating and discussing alternatives
  • The servery model was designed to be able to be quickly modified if desired; new iterations of parts could be prototyped and fitted to the model quickly. However, such iterations were not required as stakeholders were satisfied with one of the original versions of the assembly.
  • Quicker sign-off was made possible as stakeholders could quickly evaluate the servery and physically test alternatives.

In addition to the benefits of the scale models, using 3D printing opened up discussions about additive manufacturing methods for production. Since many refurbishment programs require small-scale production, additive manufacturing opens up greater design possibilities and engineering materials – such as 3D printing using metals and fire-retardant polymers. Several parts were investigated and quoted using additive manufacturing for production.

It was assumed that the project would make use of a significant amount of a $20,000 Build It Better (BIB) voucher co-contribution from the Victorian Government via the Additive Manufacturing Hub. However, a only a small amount of the BIB voucher was spent, with GoProto. This was largely due to the successful design solution reached with the first concept, with no further iterations of the model required to be built.

While this may appear a truncated use of the RSP budget, it was far from ineffective. Cobalt Design contributed substantial in-house hours of engineering and costing of the other DFAM (Design for Additive Manufacture) proposals in an attempt to progress to additive manufactured samples that would demonstrate the effectiveness of additive manufacturing for rolling stock production parts.  Other rolling stock projects have since commenced (with others forecast) that are planned to employ the use of scale models and additive manufactured parts for production

The outcome

The servery space was able to be built as a small-scale model – enabling stakeholders to evaluate and have input on the design, which would usually not be possible without the construction of a full-size mock-up. The scale model enabled the design to quickly move from concept stage to approval stage. With the model soon approved by stakeholders, the project was then able to proceed into final development and production. This saved weeks of work that would have been required to construct a full-scale mock-up, and then evaluate it, make possible modifications to full-scale parts, and so on.

Cobalt Design has been able to showcase additive manufacturing to an industry where traditional methods such as full-scale mock-ups and techniques like hand-fabrication are the standard. With further projects on the horizon with the same customer, 3D-printed scale models will probably be used again to speed the project’s development and enable wider stakeholder engagement earlier in the design phase.

In addition, Cobalt Design has been able to highlight benefits of additive manufacturing for production parts. It is anticipated that metal 3D printing will be used in a refurbishment program in the near future, particularly as cost of this service reduces over time.



CSIRO develops low-cost titanium wire for additive manufacturing

The CSIRO has developed a novel and innovative process for turning inexpensive alloy waste into a high-value wire product suitable for the additive manufacturing market.

CSIRO Team Leader Dr Robert Wilson said researchers used low-cost titanium alloy particulates like machining swarf to produce a wire that can be used to make 3D-printed parts such as aerospace components.

“The result is a product that is significantly cheaper than titanium wire made by conventional processes,“ Dr Wilson said.

The wire is being fine-tuned for use in large format additive manufacturing such as Sciaky electron beam manufacturing and Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) – processes that melt the wire to form beads that stick together to create a layer of metal material that is then built up to form the 3D-printed part.

The global market for titanium wire is worth over $200m. There is a lucrative market for 2.5mm to 3mm titanium wire as feed for this type of wire-additive manufacturing, and the cheaper wire generated from recycled sources can also be used to produce metal powders for 3D printing.

The patented wire extrusion process, which is optimised using computational modelling, is being demonstrated to produce 50kg of titanium wire at pilot scale. The team is working to scale this up to 100kg-300kg pre-commercial volumes over coming months.

Richard Newbigin, Director of the Australasian Wire Industry Association, said Australia is well represented in various types of wire manufacturing, but until now has lacked sovereign capability in wire production for additive manufacturing: “Currently, Australian additive manufacturers have to source their titanium wire offshore, but this new capability will change that.”

Barrie Finnin, CEO of additive manufacturing company Amaero International, agrees that locally produced titanium alloy wire and powders offer a valuable local capability for Australia’s growing additive manufacturing sector.

“This technology has the potential to put Australia on the map as a competitive supplier of aerospace grade titanium alloy wire for additive manufacturing and will greatly impact on our global competitiveness,” Finnin said. “Even better, the end product will be comparable to what is currently available overseas, but much cheaper because it is using waste product.”

The wire can be used to make large complex parts for markets such as aerospace, biomedical, defence, marine, automotive, construction and consumer goods.


Additive Manufacturing Hub case study: Radetec Diagnostics

With assistance from the Additive Manufacturing Hub at AMTIL, Melbourne-based Radetec Diagnostics developed an innovative device to facilitate fast and inexpensive testing of various infectious diseases – including COVID-19.

Radetec Diagnostics is a Melbourne-based biotechnology company dedicated to developing a world-leading “platform technology” based on quantum dots – advanced luminescent nanoparticles that can be used as labels for imaging and sensing applications. This has a wide range of clinical applications, particularly in the field of point-of-care rapid diagnostics, portable in-vitro diagnostic (IVDs) devices that are used for fast and inexpensive testing of various infectious diseases such as COVID-19, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or even cancer and Parkinson’s’ disease biomarkers.

Radetec’s IVD product range consist of point-of-care test strips, and an electronic reader that is able to generate quantifiable readings in the diagnostic process. The test strips are based on a lateral flow assay test methodology, where a reagent deposited on the test strip generates a reaction to a targeted biomarker. In this case, this reaction creates a visible florescence response in the reagent when illuminated with a UV light source.

The project entails the design and manufacture of such a reader to initially assist with the manufacture of the test strips, and later form a complete set of rapid diagnostic products for clinical use.

The challenge

The aim of this project was to develop a multipurpose benchtop reader device that would facilitate the analysis of the point-of-care test strips and other type of samples. During the analysis process, the test strips are illuminated with a UV light source, while being shielded from ambient light. A camera is used to capture the response and allow further analysis within dedicated software

The major challenge for this project was the integration of the main elements of the reader that generated results that were of sufficient accuracy and repeatability. This required successful integration of mechanical hardware design, electronics and software, all of which must work seamlessly to create a device that is intuitive and easy to use for the operator.

The reader has also been designed to offer flexibility in set-up – to allow analysis of a variety of sample types and sizes. It was identified early that offering the ability to analyse samples from a single test strip through to a standard 96-sample well plate would provide a significant benefit for the product over competitor offerings. This demanded more from the camera module, and specifically the relationship of physical position and lens selection.

Time to market was also identified as a major challenge, and this was a major reason why additive manufacturing was selected as a key part of early stage development.

The solution

A first proof of concept of the reader was developed with the help of Professor Dane McCamey (UNSW Sydney and ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science). Cobalt Design was then engaged to improve the design and the sensitivity of the device, as well as manufacturing a series of benchtop reader prototypes to allow extended testing and evaluation of this new device platform. An initial benchtop system prototype was created using an FDM-printed prototype that allowed for variation of position of key elements such as the camera.

This prototype included mounting points for each of the electronics components and an OEM USB camera, and allowed for initial function testing of key elements including:

  • Sample illumination – both with UV and white light sources.
  • Light tightness of the enclosure.
  • Camera optics selection.
  • Camera positioning.
  • OEM hardware including USB camera.
  • Electronics – LED and camera power, communication to control software.
  • Software development – including camera control, lighting control, image capture and image analysis.

This test unit was a critical step in the development process and allowed a number technical risks to be addressed, while also identifying areas for further optimisation and improvement. Filtering of the LED light sources was identified as a definite requirement for the product, which led to a change to the LED configuration along with a hardware change. The test unit was also critical in fast-tracking software development as it provided a working device to test and debug the custom software that was being developed concurrently with the hardware.

After a series of design optimisations, a second round of working prototypes were manufactured and delivered to Radetec to allow extended testing and analysis. Five working units were manufactured using FDM printing, and along with functional changes to improve performance, a number of additional features were included for better integration of components, protection and isolation of the fragile electronics, and improved industrial design.

How the Additive Manufacturing Hub helped

It was predicated that the project would make full use of a $20,000 Build It Better (BIB) voucher co contribution via the Additive Manufacturing Hub. The estimated breakdown amounts for this project were $60,000 to Cobalt Design, with $20,000 to be contributed bia BIB voucher.

In the end, a total of $46,047.60 (ex GST) was spent with two registered providers: Cobalt Design ($44,697.35); and GoProto ($1,350.25). Of this amount, $20,000 was contributed by the BIB voucher and the remaining $26,047.60 was paid by Radetec Diagnostics.

According to Dr John Li, CEO of Radetec Diagnostics: “The Build it Better program allowed Radetec Diagnostics to design, experiment with and ultimately create a sensitive, multipurpose reader that is easy to use and can be utilised to quantify the fluorescence from a variety of solid and liquid substrates. The additive manufacturing capabilities available in Victoria today enabled a rapid development of a superior benchtop system ideal for R&D and medical applications.”

The outcome

The project allowed Radetec to develop the reader just in time for the roll-out of its first product – a COVID-19 antigen point-of-care rapid test. It allowed for a timely delivery of the entire set of diagnostics devices (reader + test strip) to US-based distribution partners for immediate live trial and evaluation. The roll-out of the COVID-10 test was time-critical – the earlier the better.

Another significant outcome from the project is that Radetec has accumulated experience in designing and building a “platform technology reader” that can be used in Radetec’s subsequent products – such as STI tests, cancer biomarker tests, or Parkinson’s disease tests. The reader will only require relatively minor modifications to apply to tests on other diseases.






Additive Manufacturing Hub case study: Vesticam

Vesticam is an Australian medtech startup company that has developed an accessible device to help with the diagnosis of causes of dizziness, vertigo and balance disorders.

Vesticam evolved from the clinical need for simple, portable and affordable infra-red video goggles to record of eye movements during oculomotor tests. It is an innovative modification of existing trialled and tested equipment, making it portable, fully adjustable and accessible for widespread use. Vesticam’s product records eye movement (nystagmography) during over 15 standard bedside oculomotor tests, including tests that can only be done in the dark (with vision denied). The video and audio recordings can then be reviewed, stored or sent for second opinion.

Prior to Vesticam, no existing IR video goggles met all of the required clinical parameters of being fully adjustable, easy to focus, light and comfortable for patients to wear, completely light-tight, and able to switch quickly from vision-denied to with-vision.

A large part of the original design (innovation patented) was for an adjustable means of positioning a camera at a target. The design of Vesticam version 1 (V1) allowed the subject/patient to have a frame on their head (goggles) with a camera and illuminator, and for the user/clinician to very easily position the camera manually. The V1 design allows five degrees of movement in a simple configuration of ball and socket combined with slider.

The challenge

The V1 3D-printed version of the Vesticam IR video goggles was developed in 2018-19 by the company’s co-founder Burt Nathan with input from Suzanne Douglas, co-founder and Director. The final version of Vesticam V1 was trialled and went into production and sale in 2019. With approximately 150 units in clinical use, feedback from clinicians, production, manufacturing and marketing was collated.

While the main clinical parameters had been met, there were significant issues to be addressed. These were:

  • Difficulty and inefficiency achieving light-tightness in the manufacturing and final testing stages.
  • A complete reliance on imported swimming goggles as a component.
  • The need for a simpler, user-friendly final product to meet the challenge of new competition.
  • The need for reduced manufacturing costs with less wastage.
  • The need for an ability to scale up and address higher volumes, with a view to meeting an increasing domestic and an export market.
  • A preference and ethic for on-shore manufacturing.
  • The need to be a certified medical device with future regulatory approval.
  • The desire for a more medical/clinical product aesthetic.

The next iteration of the product was intended to be designed for higher-volume production utilising injection moulding techniques. Designer Don Silak from View 7 (Victoria) started development of version 2 of Vesticam (V2), with injection moulding as the design-for-manufacturing (DFM) approach. The injection moulded V2 design had ongoing inherent issues with basic parameters of eye spacing adjustment, goggle light tighness and camera adjustment.

Followng review of the newly available possibility of multi jet fusion (MJF) additive manufacturing, the relatively small size of the niche market for this product, and the possibility of future modifications (for example, future embodiments may be WiFi-enabled), it was decided to move back to additive manufacturing and explore MJF as a manufacturing process.

Vesticam sought an additive manufacturing system based in Victoria with increased employees, use of local contractors, and minimal reliance on imported inputs. With this in mind, further research & development was needed to provide a design suitable to more advanced additive manufacturing that met the above requirements.

The solution

In undertaking the project, the Additive Manufacturing Hub engaged the assistance of registered service providers Cobalt Design Pty Ltd and GoProto (ANZ) Pty Ltd. An additive manufacturing program using current 3D printing techniques (including the more specialised MJF process) was identified as an excellent way to mitigate many of the above concerns.

The project started off with a design concept phase with Cobalt, exploring the clinical needs and requirements of the product. The final product needed to keep within the proven clinical parameters of being fully adjustable to fit different face shapes and sizes; easy to focus; light and comfortable for patients to wear; completely light-tight; and able to switch quickly from vision-denied to with-vision. The product needed to be of medical standard, including having less cavities and being compatible with standard patient hygiene pathways. For marketing purposes, it had to have a medical look and feel.

Design for Additive Manufacturing (DFAM) formed an important part of this phase. Initial designs with Cobalt were based upon the previous, incomplete design by View7, with attention to parameters and noted issues.

Additive manufacture expedited development and added considerable flexibility to the design.

The MJF process was an efficient way to produce high-quality prototypes. Using the MJF process, Vesticam could access prototypes and test them real time. The MJF process also allowed Vesticam to show prototype versions to other team members and customers for feedback about the design concept without undermining their overall opinion regarding the quality of the parts.

Final design is yet to be completed and will culminate with a short manufacturing run to produce 5-6 working modules for extended testing. This phase will focus on refinement of the product and preparation for mass production. This will be undertaken after completion of the testing/evaluation process and will include feedback from the key stake holders/potential customers.

Additive manufacturing will provide a cost-effective low volume manufacture approach that is suited to Vesticam’s assembly set up. MJF suits Vesticam’s current funding arrangements, allowing a staged approach to release of a high-volume product at a future point in time. It will also support the feedback loop required for a certified medical device. Selection and engagement of a manufacturing partner will be an important part of this phase and has already been partially supported by Cobalt.

How the Additive Manufacturing Hub helped

It was predicated that the project would make full use of the $20,000 Build It Better (BIB) voucher co contribution via the Additive Manufacturing Hub. The estimated breakdown amounts for this project were:

  • $33,500 to Cobalt Design ($16,750 to be contributed by BIB voucher)
  • $12,000 to GoProto ($3,250 to be contributed by BIB voucher)

By the end of May 2021, a total of $43,033 (ex GST) has been spent with the two registered providers. Of this amount, $20,000 was contributed by the BIB voucher and the remaining $23,033 was paid by Vesticam Pty Ltd. As of 30 May 2021, the breakdowns per RSP were:

  • Cobalt Design: $38 408
  • GoProto: $4 624

The cost of Cobalt’s services was higher than expected because of increased complexity as the project scope evolved during the development, and as extra prototypes and reviews were required.

The outcome

Over the course of this project, using additive manufacturing allowed Vesticam to easily make changes to design and innovate without disruption to deadlines. Final product weights were minimised, reducing logistics costs and emissions into the future.

Since MJF technology is available and affordable in Victoria, Vesticam was able to keep more of its production in Australia than if injection molding was used. This has created more opportunity for the local economy, reduced emissions from freighting products back and forth with international partners, and importantly, allowed much faster experimentation. It is assumed that completion of this project will have reduced time to market.

Support for local business and employment has been increased by keeping the prototyping and ultimately the manufacturing and assembly in Victoria. As stated, Vesticam is planning to use the MJF additive processes employed in this project on an ongoing basis, and anticipates doubling business growth in the next 12 months.

According to Philip Wilson, the V2 project manager from Vesticam: “The Build it Better program gave the perfect opportunity to take advantage of MJF printing technology. The program meant that a small medtech startup like Vesticam could employ quality designers, and experiment with and ultimately create a high-quality base for our medical device. The additive manufacturing capabilities available in Victoria today enabled us to develop of a superior product in the short timeframe we needed.”





Additive Manufacturing Hub case study: Kesem Health

Digital health company Kesem Health sought assistance from AMTIL’s Additive Manufacturing Hub in the development of the iUFlow urinary monitoring device.

Melbourne-based Kesem Health develops and commercialises a digital health medical device and develops artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled solutions in the field of urology. Current methods of assessing patients with urinary dysfunction are time-consuming, expensive, and space-intensive. The current standard of care compromises clinical outcomes and increases the costs associated with diagnosing urinary dysfunction.

The solution is the iUFlow, a novel, patented, fully automated, and easy to use bladder monitoring device, implemented on a smartphone platform. The iUFlow device is designed and priced to be used over a period of 48-96 hours as required by the patient’s urologist.

The challenge

The project entailed the design and manufacturing of multiple components to further tune the design of iUFlow, utilising additive manufacturing principals of multiple parts of the iUFlow product. This is due to the complexity of the design, which is difficult to achieve by going directly to injection moulding. In addition, the costs and processes involved with a typical injection moulding set-up presented a significant barrier to entry. Therefore, it was deemed risky, as well as expensive and slow, to move directly to an injection moulding set-up without first exploring how the physical product might look and feel.

The solution

In undertaking the project, the Additive Manufacturing Hub engaged the assistance of a registered service provider, X-Product Pty Ltd, an additive manufacturing provider using 3D SLA printing techniques. This was identified as an excellent way to mitigate many of the above concerns.

Kesem Health believed that using additive manufacturing it would be able to reduce the design cycle and therefore reduce the time to market. The project allowance was up to three iterations of several parts, with the final aim of having these products ready to be manufactured at production quality, using advance manufacturing and/or additive manufacturing techniques. It would also enable Kesem to conduct small-scale manufacturing utilising the technology for parts supply without committing to expensive tools.

During the project, X-Product supplied prototypes, built the prototype units, assisted with testing, measuring and iterations. In addition, manufacturing of the product took place, entailing hundreds of parts.

Once the initial design was completed, the first prototypes were completed the following day after an overnight 3D printing run. This rapid process allowed Kesem to iterate the concept multiple times in a short period and make key decisions related to size, features and aesthetics. Drastic changes could be realised because it was quick and cheap to simply try again with a alternative design.

How the Additive Manufacturing Hub helped

It was predicated that the project would make full use of a $20,000 Build It Better (BIB) voucher co-contribution via the Additive Manufacturing Hub. Gil Hidas, Managing Director of Kesem Health, commented: “The BIB program gave us the perfect opportunity to further explore 3D printing for prototyping and utilising additive technology for manufacturing.”

The outcome

Over the course of the project, new features could easily be added and adjusted. It would not have been possible to produce these in a plastic mould as a single part and for the cost and in the time of iteration. The additive process that Kesem used for prototyping allowed it to conduct those experiments easily. Therefore, new features were added to the concept and made their way through to the final product, resulting in an improved design.

As a result of the project, Kesem will be being using the additive processes employed in the near future and on an ongoing basis, in addition to using it in small-scale manufacturing. The company is also postponing its investment in injection moulding tooling.




New technique breaks the mould for 3D printing medical implants

Researchers have flipped traditional 3D printing to create some of the most intricate biomedical structures yet, advancing the development of new technologies for regrowing bones and tissue.

The emerging field of tissue engineering aims to harness the human body’s natural ability to heal itself, to rebuild bone and muscle lost to tumours or injuries. A key focus for biomedical engineers has been the design and development of 3D printed scaffolds that can be implanted in the body to support cell regrowth. But making these structures small and complex enough for cells to thrive remains a significant challenge.

Enter a RMIT University-led research team, collaborating with clinicians at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, who have overturned the conventional 3D printing approach. Instead of making the bioscaffolds directly, the team 3D printed moulds with intricately-patterned cavities then filled them with biocompatible materials, before dissolving the moulds away.

Using the indirect approach, the team created fingernail-sized bioscaffolds full of elaborate structures that, until now, were considered impossible with standard 3D printers. Lead researcher Dr Cathal O’Connell said the new biofabrication method was cost-effective and easily scalable because it relied on widely available technology.

“The shapes you can make with a standard 3D printer are constrained by the size of the printing nozzle,” said O’Connell, a Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow at RMIT. “The opening needs to be big enough to let material through and ultimately that influences how small you can print. But the gaps in between the printed material can be way smaller, and far more intricate.

“By flipping our thinking, we essentially draw the structure we want in the empty space inside our 3D printed mould. This allows us to create the tiny, complex microstructures where cells will flourish.”

Versatile technique

O’Connell said other approaches were able to create impressive structures, but only with precisely tailored materials, tuned with particular additives or modified with special chemistry.

“Importantly, our technique is versatile enough to use medical grade materials off-the-shelf,” he said. “It’s extraordinary to create such complex shapes using a basic ‘high school’ grade 3D printer. That really lowers the bar for entry into the field, and brings us a significant step closer to making tissue engineering a medical reality.”

The research was conducted at BioFab3D@ACMD, a state-of-the-art bioengineering research, education and training hub located within the Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery (ACMD) at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne.The research was supported by the St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne Research Endowment Fund, the Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund, a NHMRC-MRFF Investigator Grant and the Australian Technology Network of Universities Industry Doctoral Training Centre.

ACMD’s collaborative approach brings together leading tertiary institutions including RMIT University, the University of Melbourne, Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Wollongong, research institutes and St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, where the centre is based, to take on today’s toughest healthcare challenges.

Co-author Associate Professor Claudia Di Bella, an orthopedic surgeon at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, said the study showcases the possibilities that open up when clinicians, engineers and biomedical scientists come together to address a clinical problem.

“A common problem faced by clinicians is the inability to access technological experimental solutions for the problems they face daily,” Di Bella said. “While a clinician is the best professional to recognise a problem and think about potential solutions, biomedical engineers can turn that idea into reality.

“Learning how to speak a common language across engineering and medicine is often an initial barrier, but once this is overcome, the possibilities are endless.”

Step-by-step: How to reverse print a bioscaffold

The new method – which researchers have dubbed Negative Embodied Sacrificial Template 3D (NEST3D) printing – uses simple polyvinyl acetate (PVA) glue as the basis for the 3D printed mould. Once the biocompatible material injected into the mould has set, the entire structure is placed in water to dissolve the glue, leaving just the cell-nurturing bioscaffold. PhD researcher and the study’s first author Stephanie Doyle said the method enabled researchers to rapidly test combinations of materials to identify those most effective for cell growth.

“The advantage of our advanced injection moulding technique is its versatility,” Doyle said. “We can produce dozens of trial bioscaffolds in a range of materials – from biodegradable polymers to hydrogels, silicones and ceramics – without the need for rigorous optimisation or specialist equipment.

“We’re able to produce 3D structures that can be just 200 microns across, the width of four human hairs, and with complexity that rivals that achievable by light-based fabrication techniques. It could be a massive accelerator for biofabrication and tissue engineering research.”

Future treatment toolkit

Currently there are few treatment options for people who lose a significant amount of bone or tissue due to illness or injury, making amputation or metal implants to fill a gap common outcomes. While a few clinical trials of tissue engineering have been conducted around the world, key bioengineering challenges still need to be addressed for 3D bioprinting technology to become a standard part of a surgeon’s toolkit. In orthopedics, a major sticking point is the development of a bioscaffold that works across both bone and cartilage.

“Our new method is so precise we’re creating specialised bone and cartilage-growing microstructures in a single bioscaffold,” O’Connell said. “It’s the surgical ideal – one integrated scaffold that can support both types of cells, to better replicate the way the body works.”

Tests with human cells have shown bioscaffolds built using the new method are safe and non-toxic. The next steps for the researchers will be testing designs to optimise cell regeneration and investigating the impact on cell regrowth of different combinations of biocompatible materials.


CSIRO’s novel 3D-printed silicone resin to boost biomedical manufacturing

CSIRO is paving the way for a new era of manufacturing with silicone, with the development of its next-generation silicone resins for making 3D-printed medical parts.

A relative newcomer to the global 3D print market, silicone has enormous potential for 3D printing and is estimated to be worth over US$91bn dollars by 2026. But as a new technology, 3D printing with silicone has its challenges – low resolution and slow speed being the key issues.

According to CSIRO polymer chemist, Dr Ke Du, current silicone resins are also restricted for use on specialised printers, which can be expensive. To solve these problems, Dr Du and her colleagues have developed a family of new silicone products.

“Our unique biocompatible resins boast a suite of excellent attributes,” Dr Du said. “What’s more, they can be used with off-the-shelf printers, without the need for modification.”

The resins are non-cytotoxic and are capable of printing complex designs in high resolution, including irregular shapes, thin walls and hollow structures. The printed silicone parts produced with the resins have tunable mechanical properties, making them customisable for different applications.

Dr Tim Hughes, team leader of CSIRO’s Biomedical Polymer Chemistry group, said the resins have applications in 3D-printed medical devices and customised products such as dental devices, hearing aids and cochlear implants, prosthetics, and other patient specific medical devices.

“We believe the resins may even help fast track prototyping some of these biomedical devices,” Dr Hughes said.

Parts made with the resins are super-soft and have great compressive elasticity and high transparency. The silicone resins work on the digital light processing 3D printer – light wavelength range from 360mm to 500nm – and they are also accessible to common commercially available desktop DLP printers. The technology is likely to also work in stereolithography (SLA) 3D printers and perhaps with modification in other photocurable 3D printers such as inkjet and extrusion.

A surprising novel feature is the resin’s superglue properties. The research team discovered the resins can easily affix glass and metal, opening up an entirely new market as a construction adhesive. The team has patented their novel silicone resins and they are seeking industrial partners to help commercialise the product.


GoProto ANZ completes ISO 9001 Quality Management System certification

Australia’s largest 3D printing facility, GoProto ANZ has been awarded ISO 9001:2015 quality management systems (QMS) accreditation.

AMTIL member GoProto operates six different additive manufacturing technologies in-house for prototyping and end-use applications, as well as providing 3D scanning, machining and injection moulding services. ISO 9001 is quickly gaining acceptance among 3D printing and contract manufacturers as a foundation for their quality programs. The stringent process analyses a business’s operations from top to bottom, seeking commitment to quality at every level.

“ISO is one of the most rigorous and well-regarded standards in the world,” says James Sanders, General Manager of GoProto ANZ. “We sought to become certified as part of our longstanding commitment to quality and a further step of our Industry 4.0 journey. I am extremely proud of our team’s efforts, which proves their commitment to providing high quality parts and excellent customer service. We’re dedicated to constant improvement and making sure we have the processes and systems in place for this.”

GoProto’s ISO certification was accelerated as a result of a grant awarded by the Centre for Defence Industry Capability, in recognition of the company’s potential to manufacture aerospace and defence components in-country, which will contribute significantly to Australia’s sovereign industrial capability priorities.

GoProto specialises in quick-turn, on-demand, custom manufacturing, offering end-to-end solutions for 3D scanning, 3D printing / additive manufacturing, CNC machining, sheet metal, cast urethane, injection moulding, and finishing. The company helps to manufacture and re-engineer parts for product development customers in medical, defence, industrial, automotive, mining, and many other industries. GoProto utilises cutting-edge technologies, methods and the very best professionals to deliver 3D printed and conventionally manufactured parts fast. GoProto’s manufacturing facilities are based in Melbourne and Sydney, with a sister company in the US.


Wohlers Associates launches podcast on additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (AM) consulting firm Wohlers Associates has announced the launch of the Wohlers Audio Series, sharing insights from industry experts on creative ways of applying AM and 3D printing processes and perspectives on where they are headed.

The first episode is a conversation between Terry Wohlers, founder and president, and Noah Mostow, director of market intelligence and publications, both of Wohlers Associates. They touch on the origin of the Wohlers Report and views on what the future might look like. The report was first published 26 years ago and serves as the undisputed industry-leading report on AM and 3D printing worldwide.

The Wohlers Audio Series will include a wide range of subjects, such as the development and adoption of materials for AM. For three decades, photopolymers have been the dominant material. Over the past five years, polymer powders for powder bed fusion have caught up with photopolymers. The values in the vertical axis represent millions of dollars in revenue from these materials. Wohlers Associates expects polymer powders to overtake photopolymers as the dominant AM material over the next couple of years as series production applications increase.

Wohlers is part of a unique group of experts who have been following the AM industry since its inception. In the new podcast, Wohlers Associates will be talking with people from around the world on new developments and trends in AM. You can find the first episode at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and at the Wohlers Associates website.