NIDEK Corporation is a multinational company with offices in Japan, the US, Brazil, China, Singapore, and France. Its single research and development branch, NIDEK Technologies, is located in Padova, Italy, where some advanced technology has been greatly speeding up and improving the development of the company’s vision diagnostic systems, or ophthalmological devices. Using a Stratasys Objet500 Connex3 multimaterial color 3D printer, the company has been able to cut lead times by 50% while achieving a 75% reduction in prototyping costs compared to previous prototyping methods.
The key is advanced materials that can replicate the properties of the final manufactured parts. The Objet500 Connex3 holds the distinction of being the world’s first multicolor and multimaterial 3D printer, and its wide variety of printing materials has proved to be extremely valuable for NIDEK Technologies. Parts that were, not long ago, unthinkable to 3D print have been prototyped on the Connex3, including a lens 3D printed from Stratasys’ Vero Clear material, for example. Since the company is manufacturing precise, delicate devices for patient contact, it’s critical that prototypes are fully functional and as close as possible to the final product – which hasn’t been easy for NIDEK.
“Our prototyping process has become much more accurate and streamlined since incorporating Stratasys 3D printing into our workflow,” said Cesare Tanassi, Managing Director at NIDEK Technologies. “Previously we were constrained by the prototyping restrictions associated with traditional methods. This proved costly in terms of lead-times and capital, particularly with molds and CNC machining. We found that we had limited flexibility over our prototypes and, should iterations be required, this resulted in escalating costs.
3D printing overcomes these bottlenecks by permitting us to quickly validate designs before entering our prototypes into clinical trial validation. As you can imagine, fully verifying our products is crucial to ensuring that premium quality is maintained.”
The Gonioscope is a high-tech device that observes the space between the iris and cornea for the early diagnosis of glaucoma. Using the Connex3, the NIDEK team has been able to replace several expensive metal components of the prototype with tough 3D printed polymer parts. In addition, a micro perimeter, which is a device that determines how much light is perceived by certain areas of the cornea, normally takes about two months to prototype. By replacing several of its components with single 3D printed parts, it was created in just 24 hours.
“In the case of the Gonioscope, utilizing the toughness, flexibility and snap-fit characteristics of the Stratasys Rigur 3D printing material, we replaced several aluminum parts with a single 3D printed component. This saw the device pass a year-long clinical trial where eight global medical centers examined it,” said Tanassi. “Previously we used metal fabrication when developing the micro perimeter, which took around two months. With our Objet500 Connex3 3D Printer, we can combine a wide range of 3D printed materials with contrasting mechanical characteristics. This allows us to accurately emulate final parts, including threads, seals, rubber and transparent components. In this case, we achieved the same functional result within 24 hours by replacing metal parts with robust 3D printed components.”
Faster prototyping means faster delivery of the final device to market, and in the medical device industry, that can never be too soon.
“NIDEK Technologies is a prime example of how a growing number of manufacturers are maximizing the full potential of 3D printing to quickly and cost-effectively deliver fully-operational prototypes with the precision and endurance of the final product,” said Giuseppe Cilia, Stratasys Italian Sales Manager. “In the fast-paced medical device industry, the ability to rapidly certify products is crucial to improving the quality of care, and in this case, save someone’s vision.”
Discuss in the NIDEK Technologies forum at 3DPB.com.
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