The 3D printing community in Argentina has recently pushed forth into new horizons with the acquisition of the first Stratasys J750 in Latin America.The state-of-the-art model arrived in December of last year at one of the top engineering universities in Argentina and will aid researchers in medicine and industry related endeavours. The machine is part of an ongoing effort at the country’s top engineering university, the Technological Institute of Buenos Aires (ITBA), to incorporate 3D printing to its programme. Students, faculty and staff now have access to eight 3D printers in a facility that is open every day.
Officially inaugurated in 2009, the University’s Digital Manufacturing Laboratory promises to place ITBA in a privileged position in the use of this technology throughout Latin America. The Stratasys J750 PolyJet 3D printer is designed to carry out surgical simulations, medical preparations, surgical guides and development of final products for industrial use. Both faculty and students have access to the lab’s additive manufacturing equipment housed at the university’s main building in the City of Buenos Aires which also includes two Fortus 250mc, a Fortus 450mc, an Objet Alaris30, a CNC machine and two desktop printers.
“3D printing in Argentina is having a huge impact on medicine and industry, and it’s also where most universities are developing their additive manufacturing processes,” said ITBA professor and the 3D Lab’s head of operations Jorge Leporati.
According to Leporati, in the future they hope to build bone parts, prostheses that will be inserted inside the body, and surgical simulations.
“We recently created the missing part of a human skull and also aided an oncology specialist at Garrahan Children’s Hospital in Buenos Aires who needed to perform a complex operation of a kidney tumor,” explained the professor. “We printed the child’s organ to scale, simulating the hardness of the nerves and tissues helping the surgeon better prepare for the actual operation and thus making it less risky,” he continued.
It took 10 years for the Lab to get to where it is now, but with 3D printing becoming more popular and prevalent in industry and medical procedures, having access to this technology is important. The use of the lab and its facilities are currently being integrated into the Engineering and Industrial Design programmes. The laboratory will support joint research, materials development, testing of 3D printing technologies and new processes. Two applications that will be worth highlighting in the Lab’s future are impressions of pre-surgical models and 3D bioprinting. The development of realistic simulators for surgery, will allow the doctors to know exactly what they will encounter during a procedure, increasing safety and reducing costs, as well as facilitating the development of manual medical skills for students of medicine or professionals who are starting out in their careers, and it will also rule out the use of corpses and real tissue.
The University is focused on fostering new product development and innovation with business and industry while providing sophisticated parts for customer companies that are interested in the learning opportunities that this technology brings. Working closely with some of the most interesting R&D departments in industry -such as steel tube manufacturer giant Techint– to develop the design of the prototypes that they want.
“We don’t just do the prototypes, we also work closely with the company educating and accompanying them in digitalised manufacturing so they can fully participate in the process. In Argentina a lot of the industrial firms still don’t comprehend the extent of 3D printing and it’s importance in saving time and money,” suggested Leporati.
The Lab has a wealth of new opportunities.
“For everyday users, this lab offers an added degree of quality for their projects, outside companies have the opportunity to develop prototypes in our Laboratory making the processes quicker and more efficient. Additionally, we also have plans to expand the lab’s capabilities by installing metal printers, for aluminum and titanium, as well as incorporating voxel based techniques,” explained the professor.
3D printing in Argentina is getting a bigger thrust from the academic community. While quite a few companies are starting to develop this type of equipment for industrial and commercial use, the machines are mostly aimed at making prototypes and not at manufacturing high-end products. In the future, they will play a more important role in production processes and in the manufacturing of small parts.
Still, Argentina is one step behind compared to the rest of the world and the Latin American region, especially when measured against Brazil or Chile. The expansion of this type of technology is hindered by regulations, a lack of investment in technology and an economic recession. Additionally, we cannot forget that the certifications, costs, requirements and training in 3D printing make implementations slower in Argentina. Local universities and other academic institutions are becoming quite prolific in 3D printing (especially in the health sector) but this success still cannot be replicated within the entrepreneurial community. This creates lag in 3D printing adoption. Furthermore, a lot of different rules exist at the local, state and federal level. In Argentina, rules and rates are subject to frequent adjustments and legislative changes, especially during periods of economic stress, making the production and development of these printers quite a risky endeavor. All of this makes “made in Argentina” printers very rare indeed. It seems for now that importing the world’s best is the best way forward for 3D printing in Argentina.
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