For our AM Focus Medical this month we continue to zoom in on the many possibilities that additive manufacturing is offering today to medical companies. Next up in our series is GE Healthcare additive manufacturing. Supported by GE’s significant investments in its additive manufacturing, the Healthcare division is now taking significant steps toward serial medical part production through facilities in Sweden and in the US. Upcoming episodes will continue to include many different types of players in this segment, ranging from highly innovative startups and SMEs to giant multinational corporations. At the end of the month, all the best content will be featured in 3dpbm’s Medical AM Focus 2020 eBook.
GE Healthcare is the medical technology subsidiary of General Electric. With a history as far back as 1893, the healthcare subsidiary today is involved in areas such as medical imaging, diagnostics, and patient monitoring. They work in specialized disease areas including neurology, coronary disease, and cancer. GE Healthcare is one of six GE businesses today using additive applications, as GE seeks to grow its new additive business to $1 billion by 2020.
In 2018 GE Healthcare opened its first 3D printing lab in Europe, the Innovative Design and Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center for Europe, in Uppsala, Sweden. The center uses technologies including 3D printing and robotics to speed up the launch of new innovative products for the healthcare industry.
The center combines advanced manufacturing technology such as mainly polymer printers but also metal 3D printers and collaborative robots, or “cobots”, with traditional machining equipment. A key in realizing the advantages of 3D printing is ensuring the technology is considered at the start of the innovation process with Research and Design teams working with advanced manufacturing engineers and in collaboration with customers.
The new center in Uppsala ensures additive expertise is available from the start of product design. Teams will design, test and produce 3D printed parts for GE Healthcare products and prepare for final transfer to manufacturing. The Uppsala facility joins GE Healthcare’s other advanced manufacturing and engineering center which is based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
GE is worked with the biotechnology company Amgen to test the performance of a chromatography column, used in the complex process to develop biopharmaceuticals, a range of drugs used to treat diseases including cancer and immune diseases. The 3D printed column was custom-designed and tested to see if it can be used in Amgen’s research to help develop improved processes for the purification stage of biopharmaceutical production.
In 2020 GE Healthcare Life Sciences opened a new additive manufacturing center in Umeå, Sweden, which will be used for the serial production of components for bio-manufacturing equipment. Together, the two facilities will cover the entire additive production workflow, from design and prototyping to serial production.
While the GE Healthcare Life Sciences’ Uppsala site focuses on product design, prototyping and validation, the new center in Umeå will follow-up on its work with serial production. With $2 million in backing, the new center is expected to increase biopharma manufacturers’ access to state-of-the-art technologies.
The facility is equipped with a 3D printer which will be dedicated to the serial production of polyamide parts, a powder mixing station and post-processing systems. According to GE Healthcare, the new AM center will be turning out parts for bioprocess systems including HiScale Columns, Biacore SPR systems and the new ÄKTA go chromatography system.
GE Healthcare Life Sciences is recognizing the advantages of integrating AM into its R&D and production. Not only is the company benefitting from more design freedom and reduced lead times, the technology is also enabling it to establish a more agile supply chain, as well as to streamline product development and manufacturing, as well as logistics and sourcing.
It should be noted that the primary focus of these two centers in Sweden is not the 3D printing of orthopedic implants – for which GE Additive provides hardware systems to a large number of partners including most of the companies highlighted in previous episodes of this series – but rather the use of 3D printing for healthcare equipment production.
Even more recently, GE Healthcare made moves in the bioprinting sector as well. After signing a deal with Advanced Solutions Life Science, GE Healthcare will distribute the world’s first integrated 3D bioprinter + confocal scanner (BioAssemblyBot + GE IN Cell Analyzer 6500HS) as part of a strategic R&D and distribution partnership that sets out to personalize tissue regeneration. The integration of IN Cell Analyzer and BioAssemblyBot systems technologies will embed cellular-level assessments into the 3D bioprinting workflow used to create human tissue models.
Bioprinted tissues are small in size and die quickly, due to an inability to engineer small blood vessels – the body’s supply network. ASLS’ patented Angiomics technology enables bioprinted microvessels to self-assemble into functional capillary beds, which deliver nutrients, oxygen, and hormones to the 3D tissue model and remove waste. This partnership would allow life scientists and tissue engineers to quickly design, build and image living, vascularized 3D tissues in a single, agile process.