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Manufacture Technology and Equipment

Print Possibilities

In Ida Keogh’s “Sticking Plaster for the Tim Man’s Broken Heart”, 3D printing takes center stage. 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) is already being explored in a variety of ways within the pharma industry – from printing organs, to prosthetic limbs, and also components for biopharma machinery, which could lead to reduced costs.

“At GE Healthcare Life Sciences, we have recently opened a 3D printing lab in Uppsala, Sweden, called the Innovative Design and Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center for Europe. We think it is a very promising technology for engineering,” says Andreas Marcstrom, Manager of Additive Engineering at GE Healthcare’s Uppsala site. “If you look at the wider business of GE Healthcare, metals are a core part of the business but in life sciences polymers are very common because of single-use systems. We have been investigating the potential of both 3D printed stainless steel and various polymers.”

The company hopes to use 3D-printed components in its biopharmaceutical systems. One of the benefits of 3D printing is that a traditionally complex part – perhaps made up of ten or more different parts welded together – can be printed as a single component, leading to faster build times and more reliability. It also opens up the possibility to make parts more configurable and customizable – and Klas Marteleur, Principle Engineer on the additive team, adds that the technology can bring environmental benefits and lower costs.
It is early days for the center – and 3D printing as a whole in biopharma. However, GE is already working with Amgen to test a 3D-printed, custom-designed chromatography column. “Right now, we are only just scratching the surface of additive manufacturing and how it will be used in the future,” says Marteleur. “The biggest limitation is the minds of today’s engineers. 3D printing is limitless in terms of the complex designs you can achieve, but today’s engineers are trained in old-school techniques. It will take time for us to really understand what we can do with 3D printing. It won’t replace all other techniques, such as injection moulding, but it’s a good addition to the toolbox.”

“It is a very exciting technology – and I can’t imagine where it will go in the next 10 years, let alone 100 years! Certainly, we hope to see increasing use at GE Healthcare in Life Sciences,” adds Marcstrom. “But 3D printing is not just limited to biopharma machines – I find the advances in the bioprinting of organs very fascinating. 3D printed ovaries have allowed infertile mice to give birth so we know it works and has potential. It will be a reality for humans one day.”

But will it be affordable? Despite the dystopian vision presented in Writing the Future, Marcstrom and Marteleur are optimistic: “3D printing is generally very cost effective and the more the technology is used, the more the prices will come down. Overall, I would say this is a positive technology and I hope it will lead to positive things,” says Marcstrom.

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About the Author
Stephanie Vine

Making great scientific magazines isn’t just about delivering knowledge and high quality content; it’s also about packaging these in the right words to ensure that someone is truly inspired by a topic. My passion is ensuring that our authors’ expertise is presented as a seamless and enjoyable reading experience, whether in print, in digital or on social media. I’ve spent fourteen years writing and editing features for scientific and manufacturing publications, and in making this content engaging and accessible without sacrificing its scientific integrity. There is nothing better than a magazine with great content that feels great to read.

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