“Additive Manufacturing”, or in simpler sexier terms, 3D PRINTING has been at the forefront of the technology and innovation discussion. Created for recreational uses, the concept of mechanically building components by adding layer over layer has expanded to construction, automotive, consumer goods and even medical applications.
Having worked with 3D printers in summer 2014 at the Imperial College Robotics Lab, I experienced the challenges the technology faced at the time. However, blocked extruders (nozzle that deposits molten plastic), malfunctioning printers and system resets are issues from the past, as the technology now faces bigger challenges and its application expands into more complicated sectors.
The fascinating development of bio-printing, pioneered by EnvisionTec, takes center stage in this blog post, as we try to explore the sector’s main challenges and the company’s efforts to propel the technology forward.
For the past 15 years, EnvisionTec has grown and pioneered additive manufacturing, expanding from initial basic 3D printers to covering bio-printers with its Bio-Plotters series. Bio-plotters are 3D printers that create the structure and base / scaffold of an organ then inject the relevant cell mixture to create functioning organs and skin grafts.
In addition to hiring, EnvisionTec has adopted an open source policy for its product development to optimize the development of its products. By making product-related documents publicly available, EnvisionTec is calling for increased collaboration from the medical and technical community. Further, EnvisionTec allows the use of 3rd party printing raw material on its products. A smart move in my opinion as it promotes the diffusion of its products in a sector that might be hesitant to switch over to bio-printed products.
But perhaps the biggest stride taken by the company to increase awareness and promote diffusion of its product is creating an online database to track the growing amount of research being done with its bio-printer at universities, hospitals and companies worldwide. Whether it is for criticism or praise, EnvisionTec’s public database carries peer-reviewed papers and acts as reddit of sorts where professionals discuss the different applications, merits and drawbacks of bio-printing. Through the database, EnvisionTec is also collecting data to better improve its products and respond to its customer requirements.
In order to maintain their momentum, I believe EnvisionTec should double-down on perfecting the technology behind bio-printing and increase product awareness and, in the long term, focus on further improving the business side of its operations.
While the progress so far has been impressive, there are still many challenges associated with the technology of bio-printing. This is not to be construed as a reflection of poor EnvisionTec performance. The technology is simply very complex. The implication of slow printing speeds are issues companies like EnvisionTec must solve. Given the high quality and accuracy required for the organs being printed, large components may take up to several days to be completed. In the meantime, the bio-ink, i.e. the cell medium injected into the printed organ, has to be maintained in a proper physiological state. This entails strict control of temperature and humidity throughout the printing process. This is just one of the issues, but the point I am trying to convey that a lot of progress is still required on the technical front, and I believe EnvisionTEc should prioritize securing enough capital and investing in efforts to nail down the technology and the science behind it. EnvisionTec is not a publicly listed company, so I was unable to clearly identify how they secure funding, but it is key area in my opinion.
Another area I think they should focus om is increasing acceptance of bio-printing as a viable medical solution. It has been generally adopted by the medical community, but as with all new medical technologies, it will require additional effort to diffuse faster and deeper. Developing a strong sales team to pitch bio-printing to Key Opinion Leaders in the medical community is one potential suggestion.
I also believe they should raise awareness with patients, to make them more accepting of the new technology as a viable alternative.
Along those lines, and because of the massive potential I see for this company, I think EnvisionTec should start building up its business capabilities. Putting in place marketing and sales teams, financial and operating processes and supporting technological systems will be crucial for EnvisionTec to equip itself for the growth that is expected.
To close, 2 key questions persist:
- From a medical perspective, and given the technical nature required in modeling the components on the 3D printing software, should doctors be expected to do the modeling themselves?
- From a business perspective, should the company maintain its broad range of 3D printers that cover over 6 different sectors, or should it focus on 1 or 2 sectors and develop superior expertise in them?
 Kerns. What’s next for 3D printing? The disruptive technology continues to grow thanks to lower costs and greater accessibility. Machine Design 90
 Wade. 3D Bioprinter Creates Human Skin. Engineer Online. 1/24/2017
 https://envisiontec.com/envisiontec-unveils-new-in-vivo-medical-grade-materials-and-feature-options-for-3d-bioplotter/ (EnvisionTec Website)
 https://envisiontec.com/case-studies/medical/3d-and-4d-bioprinting-breakthroughs/ (EnvisionTec Website)
 https://envisiontec.com/3d-bioplotter-research-papers/ (EnvisionTec Website)