GE: Paving the Way in Medical Technology Using 3D Printing

General Electric is using 3D printing to lead cutting-edge innovation in the healthcare space and will ultimately bring better, customized medical technologies to market faster and more cost-effectively.

Additive Manufacturing: Enhancing Medical Technology

In the medical technology space, additive manufacturing, more commonly referred to as “3D printing,” is pushing companies to reimagine their innovation cycles, product development processes, and patient reach methods. 3D printing is a type of manufacturing process that uses a digital model to create a 3D object out of virtually any material; compared to traditional manufacturing, 3D printing has enabled researchers and engineers to quickly test and prototype new designs that ultimately can be used by doctors and surgeons [1]. Even through its financial ups and downs, one company in particular, General Electric (GE), has embraced 3D printing technology and is rapidly working to integrate the advancements that it can provide across many of its services, subsidiaries, and partner organizations.

GE: Using Scale to Pave the Way

Historically, surgeons, especially those in the orthopedic space, have taken relatively standard items – such as knee replacements that are not individually customized – and have shaped the knees or joints of patients around the objects. Though each patient is clearly unique, surgeons have had limited choices in implant sizes or shapes to address individual concerns, which has ultimately increased patient discomfort and prolonged healing time in many cases [2]. Many smaller organizations such as Materialise and MedPrin have tried to tackle this clear healthcare issue but have relied significantly on smaller-scale fundraising efforts and labs [3]. GE, a massive global conglomerate, has been able to quickly enter this market partially due to its size and prevalence across multiple technology advancements.

Figure 1: 3D Printed Orthopedic Implant [4]

In the short-term, GE has doubled-down its efforts to address some of the major challenges in medical technologies by launching GE Additive (an advanced manufacturing arm of GE) and opening a European 3D Printing and Design Center in Sweden to conduct research on the technology, its applications, and its potential risks [5]. For companies like GE, speed-to-market and company reputation for innovation are incredibly valuable considerations in product development; however, a typical medical device product introduction can take many months to years from initial prototyping to launch, given the use of traditional stage-gate processes and multiple decision points [6].

In the long-term, GE has begun testing viable ways to shorten the entire company’s innovation cycles and bring healthcare products to market much faster and more reliably through key partnerships. In 2018, GE announced a partnership with Stryker, one of the world’s largest medical devices companies, to improve patient outcomes and bring forward digital innovation in health, specifically through surgeries. Over the course of many years, GE aims to bring 3D printing machines, materials, and services to help Stryker’s global supply chain [7]. It is clear that GE has realized the significant positive impacts that 3D printing could have on a company’s manufacturing process, if implemented effectively. GE Healthcare’s Manager of Additive Engineering, Andreas Marcstrom, highlighted that a 3D printed part can “combine 20 parts into a single part and improve performance simultaneously” [8]. These tangible manufacturing process benefits, coupled with the increased ability to customize parts for patients based on their specific needs, has made GE a known entity at the forefront of medical innovation.

Figure 2: GE’s 3D printing orthopedic process [partial] [9]

The Future is Bright, but Unproven

In the long-run, my recommendation for GE is threefold:

  1. Focus on using GE’s reputation and strength in manufacturing and innovation to continue to develop strong partnerships with healthcare companies that can bring cutting-edge technologies to patients. By diversifying the product mix from orthopedics to other types of implants and therapies, GE can make a significant positive impact on the lives of thousands of patients.
  2. Develop global relationships with regulators to help them create accurate policies that further enhance progress and safety without stifling innovation and fast-paced technologies. Doing so will be critical if GE wants to bring revolutionary products to market without being slowed down for a lack of understanding.
  3. Build a team dedicated to understanding how to scale 3D printing globally. GE needs to invest in understanding how to reduce existing production and delivery costs to consistently meet personalized demand and ultimately leverage just-in-time manufacturing.

Looking ahead, GE and other companies looking to dive into the 3D printing space will need to ask and answer a couple of critical questions: How can we use 3D printing to make the lives of people who cannot afford high-end medical treatments better? How can companies build in the use of digital technology and manufacturing into their supply chains from the beginning to avoid late-stage implementation and replacement costs?

[757 WORDS]

Sources:

[1] Matthew DiPaola, “How 3-D printing could fundamentally change orthopedics,” Orthopedics Today, August 2013, https://www.healio.com/orthopedics/business-of-orthopedics/news/print/orthopedics-today/%7B2adc3321-13dc-4890-9ac1-b85bf8e3b55e%7D/how-3-d-printing-could-fundamentally-change-orthopedics, accessed November 2018.

[2] Clare Scott, “Johnson & Johnson Looks Toward a Future of Personalized Medicine Through 3D Printing,” 3DPrint.com, October 12, 2017, https://3dprint.com/190785/johnson-and-johnson-medicine/, accessed November 2018.

[3] “Top 10 companies in medical 3D printing,” Dr. Hempel Digital Health Network, September 10, 2018, https://www.dr-hempel-network.com/digital-health-technolgy/top-10-companies-in-medical-3d-printing/, accessed November 2018.

[4] Tom Austin-Morgan, “Transforming what’s possible for 3D-printed orthopaedic implants,” Eureka!, September 2, 2015, http://www.eurekamagazine.co.uk/design-engineering-news/transforming-whats-possible-for-3d-printed-orthopaedic-implants/88999/, accessed November 2018.

[5] “GE Healthcare opens its first European 3D printing and design center,” GE Newsroom, October 3, 2017, https://www.genewsroom.com/press-releases/ge-healthcare-opens-its-first-european-3d-printing-and-design-center-284042, accessed November 2018.

[6] Michael David Sandford, “Application of 3D printing in medical devices New Product Development,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2017, http://hdl.handle.net/1721.1/111518, accessed November 2017.

[7] Jesse O’Brien, “Stryker partners with GE business,” Grand Rapids Business Journal, June 23, 2017, https://www.grbj.com/articles/88270-stryker-partners-with-ge-business, accessed November 2018.

[8] “GE Healthcare Opens its First European 3D Printing and Design Center,” Additive Manufacturing, October 3, 2017, http://additivemanufacturing.com/2017/10/03/ge-healthcare-opens-its-first-european-3d-printing-and-design-center/, accessed November 2018.

[9] “GE Additive launches Orthopaedic Validation Consultancy at AAOS 2018,” GE Additive, March 8, 2018, https://www.ge.com/additive/blog/ge-additive-launches-orthopaedic-validation-consultancy-aaos-2018, accessed November 2018.

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3 thoughts on “GE: Paving the Way in Medical Technology Using 3D Printing

  1. This is fascinating – I had no idea GE Healthcare was so far along with 3D printing.

    There’s no doubt that additive manufacturing can be hugely beneficial to healthcare, but I wonder what GE needs to do to gain widespread adoption within the medical community. Doctors tend to be risk-averse, which makes it difficult to sell them revolutionary products. Should GE be partnering with top medical schools to help integrate additive manufacturing into the medical vocabulary? Should they pilot these products within large, well-known hospitals? It’ll be interesting to see which go-to-market approach GE chooses.

  2. The article is very interesting! It is very inspiring to see how technology can make people`s lives better. I completely agree that big companies should be the leaders in those types of innovation because they prove that investments can be transformed into returns later. They can use their expertise and scale to transform innovations in daily business.

    I also agree with the open-questions. The challenge is how to extend the benefits of the 3D printing for those in need. I believe that one solution is partnering with creative start-ups that are finding ways to reduce the cost of the technology. There is start-up called e-NABLE which is using 3D printers to create free 3D printed hands and arms for those in need of an upper limb assistive device. (More info on their website: http://enablingthefuture.org/about/ )

    GE could potentially partner with NGOs and start-ups to absorb their knowledge and in turn provide infra-structure and scale.

  3. This is absolutely amazing! GE healthcare does seem far ahead of the curve when it comes to 3D printing in the medical industry. As regards the question of how to use this technology to impact those in need of high-end medical treatments, I’d like to think of it from a preventive approach, rather than a treatment one. For example, poor hygiene is a major cause of illnesses in over-populated impoverished settlements. Untreated illnesses could then morph into infections that then require high-end medical treatment. Can 3-D printing of e.g. disinfectant wipes, drastically reduce the cost of the product so that it becomes economically accessible to such a community? The same thing can be asked of condoms, or toothbrushes e.t.c. This may be a more pragmatic way to approach the issue, I’m thinking.

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