IBM and Ricoh Partner for 3D Printed Anatomical Models

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IBM (NYSE: IBM) has announced a platform update that will become a part of a larger strategy for smart healthcare solutions that include 3D printed anatomical models. The newest release of IBM Watson Health’s iConnect Access allows users to create digital anatomical models. Through a partnership with Ricoh USA, the two firms will build upon this to release an end-to-end solution for 3D printing anatomical models, as well.

IBM Watson Health iConnect Access. Image courtesy of IBM.

Launched in 2008, iConnect Access is a platform for collecting, storing and exchanging medical imaging data through a web browser. The latest update includes a number of features approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), such as an interactive segmentation tool that can be used to build digital 3D models from a patient’s medical imaging data. This is complemented with such editing tools as freehand sculpt, 3D eraser, polygon sculpt, hole-filling, “cut and discard”, “cut and keep”, and smoothing.

The Ricoh AM S5500P SLS 3D printer. Image courtesy of Ricoh.

In addition to the new release, it was announced that IBM Watson Health had teamed with Ricoh USA to release “a turnkey, end-to-end solution for creating 3D printed anatomic models.” IBM will be offering its expertise in data utilization, while Ricoh will be offering its experience with industrial 3D printing. Together, the firms hope to make 3D technology more accessible to healthcare providers, streamlining and simplifying the ability to 3D print patient-specific anatomic models in the process.

“Today’s healthcare providers are handling more clinical data, from more devices, across a growing number of care settings, for larger populations,” said Alok Gupta, General Manager, IBM Watson Health Imaging. “IBM iConnect Access was developed as an interoperable, scalable platform designed to not only enable better management of and more access to clinical data, but to also serve as a robust foundation for new clinical and operational decision-making tools. The latest release of the platform exemplifies this vision.”

SLS parts 3D printed by Ricoh. Image courtesy of Ricoh.

Ricoh has been steadily increasing its presence in 3D printing since it began distributing products from Stratasys and 3D Systems in 2014. Since then, the firm has developed a selective laser sintering (SLS) line, bioprinting technology, and offered 3D printing services, which has included Impossible Objects’ unique composite additive manufacturing technology. If this deal with IBM goes well, this should help cement the Japanese printer maker in additive healthcare segment, which is one of the fastest growing of all verticals. According to Scott Dunham, Vice President of Research at SmarTech Analysis, the market for medical 3D printing is set to grow to $6.08 billion by 2027.

Ricoh Standard DNA Series for Noroviruses (Credit: Ricoh)

Though the research for how patient-specific 3D printed anatomical models can aid in presurgical planning has made the benefits quite clear, few large firms outside of the AM space have pursued it. 3D Systems, Stratasys, and Materialise are among the largest within that space. With IBM and Ricoh in the mix, the technology is likely to spread much more quickly. And as patient-specific models grow in adoption, the bioprinting technologies of Ricoh, 3D Systems, and the like will continue to improve so that, once they’re ready to produce organs, there will already be a substantial infrastructure in place used for anatomical models, surgical guides, and non-bioprinted implants.

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