Even in the medical industry, prototyping has the typical challenges of long lead times and expensive fixturing. One medical device designer, Shukla Medical, a subsidiary of aerospace manufacturer S.S. White Technologies, chose to go a different way. Known for their simple, intuitive designs, Shukla Medical’s products are engineered for orthopedic surgeons, and include time-saving features like quick-connections and multiple extraction options.
But he products must be prototyped and tested by orthopedic implant surgeons before the final parts are manufactured, with surgeons checking for form and fit. CNC machining is known for long lead times when using it for prototyping. Such lead times prevented Shukla designers from getting their products to market quickly.
Shukla Medical engineers purchased a 3D printer from Markforged in 2017 and used it to create functional prototypes out of carbon fiber for surgeons to check for form and fit. “We put a lot of load on our instruments, and carbon fiber gives them more stiffness so it doesn’t feel like a toy,” says Adam Gosik-Wolfe, Mechanical Engineer at Shukla Medical.
The team was impressed by the precision of its carbon fiber 3D printer and decided to also invest in a Markforged Metal X system. Shukla chose the Metal X for its ease of use, range of materials, and the safety it provided to its users.
Shukla Medical currently uses stainless steel when fabricating their end product, so the 17-4PH Stainless Steel material from Markforged proved to be the right option for prototyping. The team can conduct tests on the 3D printed metal prototype to verify and validate it, and surgeons can practice using it. “3D printing the prototype product helps our surgeons test the part in their hands before going into the operating room, so they already have the experience and confidence in the tool,” says Zack Sweitzer, Product Development Manager at Shukla Medical. The metal 3D printed prototypes have the look and feel of the final product, and are vastly different to the prototypes the surgeons are used to testing. “The Metal X has let us print more complicated parts to conform to implant geometry that would have otherwise been very expensive to machine,” said Gosik-Wolfe. “I think we are at the tip of the iceberg with what we will be able to make with the Metal X in the coming years.”
With Markforged technology, Shukla is able to minimize time spent in the operating room, as well as increase safety and reduce recovery time for patients. “We’re going to bring a lot more products to market faster with our Markforged printers, and we finally have the design freedom to do it,” says Sweitzer.