The design and development of surgical tools is a specialised process. It involves drawing designs by hand or on a computer, before a 3D prototype is created. The traditional manufacturing processes include making use of dies, moulds, drop forging, press work, machining and injection moulding, depending on the material. But this takes a lot of time and involves considerable expense.
Shukla Medical know this all too well. They design and manufacture universal instrument sets for orthopaedic and spine surgeons. “A huge part of our manufacturing process involves feedback from surgeons and representatives in the medical field,” says Zack Sweitzer, Product Development Manager at Shukla Medical. “They’re the ones who will be using our products in the operating room, so getting their feedback throughout the entire design process is key.”
What makes Shukla Medical unique is they handle everything in-house, from the design and development of tools to their creation. Others in the industry tend to outsource.
Their role in the medical industry is also an essential one. It’s common for implant companies to provide their own extraction devices to surgeons, but these tools are often not up to the task. To provide a better fit for surgeons, Shukla Medical makes use of Markforged 3D printers to create surgical tool prototypes.
At first, they made use of the Mark Two, printing in Onyx and carbon fibre to create prototypes that were stronger and more durable than 6061 aluminium. These parts served an important role in the development process.
But the launch of the Markforged Metal X was too good to pass up, allowing the team to print metal prototypes with the same ease. “We already had a great experience with Markforged, and so we chose the Metal X because Markforged allowed metal 3D printing to be more accessible to everyone,” says Adam Gosik-Wolfe, a Mechanical Engineer on the development team at Shukla Medical. “We were able to easily justify purchasing the Metal X for prototyping.”
Shukla Medical begins each prototyping stage with the input of surgeons. Their feedback is then used to design what would be the perfect extraction tool. The team draws the surgical tool prototypes in CAD, perfecting each area before 3D printing it. “Feedback from surgeons is invaluable to us,” says Sweitzer. “They are the ones who will be affected by our products in the operating room, so taking their thoughts into consideration throughout the process is key.”
Incorporating 3D printing into their product development process at the prototyping stage has enabled Shukla Medical to take a leading position in their industry. They have been able to combine the functionality of metal 3D printing with machining methods to optimise their overall prototyping process. This has resulted in higher quality prototypes with a faster time to market. “CNC machining takes a lot of preparation with needing to physically be there and set up the programs and CAM software,” said Sweitzer. “With 3D printers, you can just print and walk away.”
Another massive advantage of metal 3D printing is the ability to print a prototype and for it to be tested for functionality in the same way as the finished part. “Plastic prototypes are great for form and fit, but we can’t test them for functionality,” Gosik-Wolfe said. “Handing surgeons an almost identical model of the tool they would use in the operating room has increased the value of customer feedback immensely.”