Feature Stories

Advanced Design

Researchers develop 3D printing capabilities to improve health and treat disease
  • Engineers in the lab holding 3D prototype design

The acquisition of new high-end 3D printers will help researchers in the Center for Personalized Health Monitoring achieve leadership in medical device design and fabrication.

A team of UMass Amherst researchers led by professor Sundar Krishnamurty are testing newly acquired high-end 3D printers as part of an advanced design and fabrication (ADDFab) effort aimed at transforming design testing in precision manufacturing and the medical device community. The goal is to advance prototype development and testing to improve health outcomes and treatments for disease.

Krishnamurty–the site director for the Center for e-Design–and electrical engineer Christopher Salthouse, are leading the ADDFab group in the Center for Personalized Health Monitoring, one of three centers operating in the UMass Amherst Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS). The 3D printers are an integral component of the campus facilities being built out in the Life Science Laboratories for the new Institute.

 “All of our investigations will eventually support new device design related to the life sciences,” says Krishnamurty.

The 3D printer “Connex 350 by Stratasys” can simultaneously handle two different materials with different mechanical properties, for example one flexible, the other rigid to create a range of shaped objects.

The 6-foot-tall 3D printer “Formiga P110 by EOS” uses selective laser sintering technology to fabricate objects in both metal and plastic. The user inserts a white powder made up of nylon particles, which the machine laser sinters–heating the surface just enough to get sticky but not enough to melt.

The e-design team is investigating how effectively these printers can produce functioning devices and tools, or whether their optimal use is to make quick prototypes to test design alternatives. Some of the team are using the new technologies to make prototypes for medical device companies such as Boston Scientific, and others led by postdoctoral researcher Doug Eddy are testing the printers’ operations and consistency. Eddy also is working with Raytheon and Siemens on hardware and software to fully explore and characterize the printers’ capabilities.

Lucas Roman, a doctoral student in Krishnamurty’s lab, is primarily interested in the mechanical properties of objects made by 3D printers and how useful they are as practical tools. He will test them and work on “proof of concept” prototypes.

Mechanical and industrial engineer Frank Sup studies how robotics and mechatronics can be used for rehabilitation. He plans to use the new printer technologies to create new kinds of sensors and robotic devices for personal health monitoring and rehabilitation. He notes that traditional manufacturing can be prohibitively expensive for some types of personalized medical devices, but a 3D printer can affordably make a single sensor targeted for an individual.

Doctoral student Tom Hagedorn is working with researchers at UMass Medical School to develop new surgical tools with funding from Davol. He points out that tools and surgical instruments designed on a computer must be tested for ergonomics and human factors. For example, when real surgeons and nurses hold a new instrument they may say it is uncomfortable and can’t be held properly. And as Hagedorn points out, “an un-ergonomic surgical instrument is unsafe.” Another advantage of these 3D printers is that the engineers can “print out a number of ideas and see which ones a surgeon likes better,” he notes.

The new printers now being tested on campus together cost about $500,000; a third metal 3D printer will be added in the future. The printers will be moved from the engineering Elab II to the IALS facilities once the new facilities are completed.

​Krishnamurty envisions that UMass Amherst and the IALS Center for Personalized Health Monitoring will be “the go-to place in the Commonwealth and in New England” for revolutionary design testing in precision manufacturing and the medical device community within the next five years.

University Relations