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Our 3D Hub – a platform of opportunity

Architects, engineers and industrial designers have been using 3D printers to create models and prototypes for decades. But interest peaked a few years ago as the technology became more and more affordable and printing became more accessible.

Auckland DHB has had a 3D printer since 2017; using the printer to mostly for digital modelling and equipment replication. With its ability to print small parts, we don’t have to replace the whole machine.  For more complex anatomical parts we have used commercial suppliers to produce prints for a variety of needs, such as custom hip implants and cranial implants.

The oral and maxillofacial surgery service has been using 3D printed models, to plan and prepare for surgery, for several years. Chris Sealey, Service Clinical Director says, “We routinely use mirror-imaged 3D printing to allow pre-operative custom-bending of titanium plates for patients with orbital fractures (the bones surrounding the eyeball). This makes the reconstruction surgery more precise and improves patient outcomes.”

A 3D printer containing a white model of orbital bones.

3D printer with orbital model

With the Maxillofacial team already using the 3D Hub, we are looking to explore additional opportunities with clinical areas such as cardiology, oncology and orthopaedics.

To increase capability and develop safe opportunities to do this we have established a 3D Hub. This is a small team of 3D printing experts from clinical engineering and Ara Manawa, together with clinical and non-clinical staff. Overseeing the project is Dr Mike Shepherd, Director of Medical and Community at Starship. “The Hub is our in-house service that coordinates 3D printing needs,” says Dr Shepherd. “It enables us to exploit the technology, safely and to its fullest on behalf of our clinicians.”

There are numerous benefits for healthcare to improve and save patients’ lives. Training and preparing for actual operations provides models that look realistic and mimic actual human parts. It also allows for procedures to be planned and practised in risk free surgical settings.

3D printing in medicine will only keep evolving and improving and is becoming a vital part of the medical processes. While the 3D Hub has a small number of printers, we are developing in-house expertise and linking with 3D print industry and academia to ensure Auckland DHB is well placed to make the most of the opportunities for the hospital and our patients.

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