The Johnson & Johnson’s 3D Printing Center of Excellence is launching new customized surgical tools, which will be available to surgeons in hospitals across the country this week. Headed by a mechanical engineer with a specialty in metallurgy, the J&J Center is working to change the landscape of healthcare through 3D printing innovations.
Onukuri’s job is to use these technologies to deliver 3D printing solutions to different operating companies within Johnson & Johnson. The technology can have transformative applications across all businesses, like surgical tools for surgeons, medical implants for patients and even medicine tablets for consumers someday.
If you look at, say, the orthopedic business, there is a big inventory of products. For example, a surgeon treating a person going into trauma surgery might need multiple cases of instruments, which creates a lot of inefficiencies. What we are trying to do with 3D printing is customize these instruments specifically for each patient, so you don’t have to take so many different sizes into surgery.
And that’s just the beginning of what 3D printing can do at J&J. The company recently announced a partnership with DePuy Synthes and Ethicon, members of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies, to develop a prototype for bioprinted knee meniscus tissue that would be suitable for surgical implants, potentially making surgery and recovery easier on patients.
Another product planned for later this year is a titanium alloy implant for cancer patients who have bone degradation due to the disease. The implant is customized for each patient using any type of scan, whether it’s an MRI or a regular X-ray, to extract their particular anatomy. Then it is reverse engineered and a digital file is transferred to the 3D printer. The printer prints exactly what the patient needs to replace the degraded bone.
“To make products now we have large factories that require a significant investment. We produce things, and we ship them out. With 3D printing, we can potentially move manufacturing to a very small footprint, doing the same thing closer to the customer. That means products do not need to be shipped as far, and there’s a faster turnaround.”
In remote areas of Africa, China or India, for example, that have no infrastructure to create tools or implants, a small, simple 3D printer can be put on a truck or on a drone to get closer to where the need is.