Johnson & Johnson Develops 3D-Printed Patient-Specific Surgical Tools
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on March 31, 2017 |

Last year, ENGINEERING.com had the opportunity to speak with Johnson & Johnson regarding the company’s interest in 3D printing technology, after it had been announced that the multinational corporation had partnered with both Carbon and HP to use some next-generation 3D printing systems. Given the size of the company, a lot of the specific details were still under wraps, but, since then, Johnson & Johnson has shed further light on just how it plans to use additive manufacturing (AM) in the medical space. 

Head of Johnson & Johnson’s 3D Printing Center of Excellence, Sam Onukuri, holding a patient-specific, 3D-printed implant. (Image courtesy of Johnson & Johnson.)
Head of Johnson & Johnson’s 3D Printing Center of Excellence, Sam Onukuri, holding a patient-specific, 3D-printed implant. (Image courtesy of Johnson & Johnson.)

Johnson & Johnson recently published a blog post putting the spotlight on Sam Onukuri, mechanical engineering metallurgist and the head of the company’s 3D Printing Center of Excellence. In the post, not only does Johnson & Johnson reveal the existence of the center, but it also details some of the work that the center is performing.

This week, the center will launch a series of customized surgical tools that will be made available to surgeons across the United States. These tools complement the 3D-printed TRUMATCH craniomaxillofacial (CMF) implants and surgical guides developed by Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary DePuy Synthes. With TRUMATCH products, a patient’s CT scan can be converted into personally tailored implants, such as a jawbone, or surgical guides, which aid doctors in the precise implementation of incisions and implantation of medical hardware based on a patient’s anatomy.

The customized surgical tools build upon this foundation by allowing doctors to 3D print patient-specific tools that can be implemented during surgery. Typically, according to Onukuri, a doctor may enter the operating room with multiple instrument sizes, which can introduce added inefficiency into the surgery. With 3D printing, however, it’s possible to create tools that fit the procedure exactly. On top of that, the actual production of surgical tools is more streamlined with AM.

Onukuri explained, “3D printing can also speed up the production of tools. Surgical instruments have a lot of moving parts. Traditionally what’s done is that a machine is used to create individual components that go into a particular instrument, and then you bring it all together with screws or other types of welding. The fascinating thing about 3D printing is we can print the entire instrument at one time on the printer, and when the product comes out, it is fully functional. It can really shrink down the process and make it a lot faster and less expensive to manufacture.”

Onukuri with the Objet Connex500, a PolyJet 3D printer that is capable of producing objects from photopolymer resin. (Image courtesy of Johnson & Johnson.)
Onukuri with the Objet Connex500, a PolyJet 3D printer that is capable of producing objects from photopolymer resin. (Image courtesy of Johnson & Johnson.)

Other projects that the center is working on include the development of a prototype for bioprinted knee meniscus tissue implantation, through a partnership between DePuy Synthes and Ethicon, as well as a titanium alloy implant for cancer patients suffering from bone degradation. The company is even working on 3D-printed medication.

“We’re also developing solutions for older patients who don’t take their medicine,” Onukuri said, “like tablets with 3D printing sensors that could send a signal to your iPhone or to your doctor that says, ‘Yep, this person took this pill.’”

Onukuri also discusses the promise of distributed manufacturing made possible with 3D printing. Due to the ability to fabricate an object from a CAD file locally on a 3D printer, it’s not only possible to reduce Johnson & Johnson’s manufacturing footprint via on-demand production, but it may also be possible to create medical devices and implants in remote areas with no infrastructure.

First things first, however. The world of medical devices is a critical one, with much of the characterization still to be performed before widespread distributed manufacturing can occur. Until then, we’ll have to see how the company’s 3D-printed surgical devices shape up this week.

To read the interview with Sam Onukuri, read the blog entry here.

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