Ricoh’s Vision for Medical 3D Printing: An Interview with Managing Director Gary Turner

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In the last decade, 3D printing has steadily carved its niche within the medical sector. Incorporating the technology is a testament to the ever-evolving nexus of technology and healthcare. As hospitals and research centers globally have begun to adopt 3D printing for various applications, from prosthetics to surgical planning, the potential for personalized care solutions has become more evident. Amid this backdrop, companies like Ricoh (TYO: 7752) have been making strides. With its 3D for Healthcare initiative, the company focuses on an integrated approach to creating patient-specific anatomic models. It could help medical professionals better understand and plan patient care, refining diagnoses, management, and treatment.

Gary Turner, a leader and the managing director of Ricoh North America Additive Manufacturing, shared insights into the technology’s potential and its expansive reach with 3DPrint.com. His expertise offers a unique lens into the evolving world of 3D printing within the healthcare sector.

Gary Turner, Managing Director, Additive Manufacturing, North America Ricoh. Image courtesy of Ricoh.

Patient-centric evolution

Over the years, the realm of 3D printing in healthcare has expanded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Immersed at the epicenter of this evolution, Turner says the key to Ricoh 3D for Healthcare is the range of applications cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“RICOH 3D for Healthcare is an integrated end-to-end workflow solution that makes the production of patient-specific 3D-printed anatomic models simple, fast, and accurate, explains the expert. Using our ISO 13485-certified quality management system and workflow, Ricoh 3D for Healthcare can manufacture FDA-cleared cardiovascular, breast, gastrointestinal, craniomaxillofacial, genitourinary, and orthopedic applications.”

Its FDA clearance currently covers fused deposition modeling (FDM) and PolyJet. Polyjet technology lets users incorporate multiple materials in a single print. They can specify different materials (such as colors or durometer) for selected anatomy parts in a single model.

According to Turner, Ricoh has seen 3D printing transform how healthcare approaches application challenges. He highlights that this technology isn’t just about machinery and materials. It’s about reshaping patient care, diagnosis, and treatment strategies from the ground up.

Pediatric priorities

These 3D printed diagnostic medical models empower Ricoh to support more surgical specialties. For instance, the craniomaxillofacial applications have shown immense value across age groups. Turner described how these models are instrumental in cases ranging from head and neck cancers. They also aid in addressing facial deformities like lip and palatal clefts. Recognizing that doctors often address conditions like lip and palatal clefts at early stages, precise 3D printed tools are essential. They ensure pediatric and adult patients receive the care they deserve.

While FDA clearance is a monumental achievement, Ricoh’s dedication to creating patient-specific applications is equally commendable. They don’t limit their focus to just adult patients. In the medical world, many companies adapt pediatric applications from adult versions. This often results in less-than-ideal solutions for young patients. According to Harvard researchers, though there is a need for pediatric medical developments, clinical trials for children have been a major obstacle, leading to off-label use of medical products, meaning they are used in ways not officially approved by regulatory authorities.

Since 2008, the FDA’s Pediatric Device Consortia Grants program has funded and advised on pediatric device development, assisting over 800 projects and bringing 19 devices to market. While these efforts have bolstered new pediatric products in the U.S., changes in the use of existing market products remain limited.

However, Ricoh and several other trailblazing 3D printing companies understand the need for bespoke solutions tailored for children. Recognizing that the pediatric patient population is significantly smaller than the adult demographic, many companies might neglect to craft distinct applications. This fact, coupled with the unique challenges of designing for pediatric physiology and sizes, might deter many companies. Then, investing in pediatric-specific tools or applications becomes a challenge.

Historically, instead of creating unique tools, many medical applications for children are mere adaptations of adult versions. These adaptations might not always cater to the unique needs of the younger demographic as effectively as those specifically designed for them. Despite this trend, Ricoh prioritizes true patient-specific care by ensuring that adult and child applications are designed precisely in each medical subsegment.

As Turner revealed, cardiovascular models are also central to Ricoh’s 3D narrative. Their scope is impressive, “These models can aid patients with congenital and structural malformations and include a spectrum of conditions, each more intricate than the other, emphasizing the models’ potential in revolutionizing cardiac care.”

Shifting gears to neurological concerns, Turner highlighted the company’s ability to give tangible form to issues like tumors, vascular malformations, and aneurysms. While gastrointestinal and genitourinary models help to understand conditions like adenocarcinoma and renal cancer better. While discussing the breast models, Turner conveyed that they play an instrumental role in conditions ranging from breast lesions to the more severe diagnosis of breast cancer.

Surgeons use Ricoh 3D for Healthcare to create medical applications. Image courtesy of Ricoh.

Efficient innovation

But it isn’t just the breadth of applications that sets Ricoh apart in the medical 3D printing space; it’s also their efficiency and adaptability. Turner emphasized, “When you hit the ‘Request 3D Print’ button, the models can be in the hands of professionals in just days. We can often turn around within a week with close collaboration with the clinical team. Moreover, being at the point-of-care allows us to be on-site, offering easier access to surgeons and removing the additional cost and time of shipping.”

Incorporating AI into their 3D printing process is another dimension Turner was excited to discuss. “Precision medical device design will become even more scalable with advancements in AI, 3D printing, and additive manufacturing.” The integration of AI, particularly in the segmentation process, promises to accelerate the transition from medical images to 3D printable files.

“As AI continues to evolve, the need for human interaction in this crucial step will diminish, leading to faster and more accurate model production,” Turner predicted.

Future frontiers

Ricoh’s commitment to enhancing patient outcomes through 3D printing extends to its surgical planning and patient education approach. Turner explained that having 3D anatomical models as part of patient care allows for a comprehensive planning process with a multidisciplinary team. This enhanced patient comprehension and the opportunity to practice surgical methods in advance.

Ricoh is also gaining ground in education and research. The company can offer internship programs to aspiring 3D printing technicians by working with organizations and local community colleges. These alliances elevate the industry, preparing the next generation of professionals for the challenges ahead.

On the horizon, Ricoh has big ambitions. “We’ve already received FDA clearance for seven diagnostic applications,” Turner noted. “Our ability to print radiological phantoms, which can emulate human anatomy under MRI or CT scans, is particularly promising, especially for younger patients.” He concluded by providing a glimpse into the company’s future, expressing hopes to “expand our point-of-care network across the nation, partnering with more hospitals and intensifying our commitment to innovation.”

Building on Ricoh’s commitment to innovation and their future goals, another milestone recently made headlines. Sarah Rimini, who is a senior manager at Ricoh’s Center of Excellence in Healthcare, participated in the Digital Stockpile Roundtable Discussion. Orchestrated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, delved into strategies for bolstering supply chain resilience in pressing times using 3D printing solutions. The potential of additive manufacturing at the point of care emerged as a promising avenue to explore. This presents another exciting frontier for Ricoh 3D for Healthcare.

As he concluded, Turner provided a glimpse into the expansive vision of Ricoh, expressing hopes to “have new materials and printers that could be covered under FDA clearance in the future and expand our point-of-care network nationwide. By partnering with more hospitals, we aim to deepen our footprint in the sector and renew our dedication to drive adoption of the technology, democratizing 3D model access in healthcare.”

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