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Mar 29

Connecting Your Heart with FDM Technology

“3D printing enables us to bring prototyping in-house. We can now produce the casings in a few days out of real-world engineering thermoplastics, providing us with robust prototypes and accelerating time-to-market.”

- Anand Madanagopal, founder of Cardiac Design Labs (CDL)

In India, around 26% of deaths are caused by cardiac diseases, including heart attacks, and the number of cardiac patients is estimated to reach 64 million in 2015. India has fewer than 4,000 cardiologists, and fully equipped hospitals are scattered; therefore, access to critical care is limited for 70% of the Indian population living in rural areas and smaller towns. Cardiac monitoring devices are not affordable to most cardiovascular patients.

Anand Madanagopal, founder of Cardiac Design Labs (CDL), believed that affordable health care should be within reach for all people in India and that innovation could help treat cardiovascular diseases. In 2012, Madanagopal started CDL with a team of multi-disciplinary specialists, hoping to provide suburban and rural patients with monitoring of heart conditions at a reasonable price. This effort developed into the company’s MIRCaM (Mobile Intelligent Remote Cardiac Monitor).

Redefining Functional Prototyping

Process MIRCaM was designed as an ambulatory cardiac monitoring and diagnosis system capable of detecting cardiac conditions and alerting cardiologists in times of emergency. A MIRCaM must fit into clinic setup where it can be used as a scanning tool to closely monitor a patient’s well-being.

The system comprises a wearable unit and a base unit. The wearable unit houses multiple electrodes to pick up ECG (electrocardiography) signals from the patient. It was imperative that the unit was small and its material was lightweight for patients to comfortably wear long-term. The base unit receiving the transmission had to be robust while allowing real-time monitoring and diagnosis. The casings for the wearable unit needed to be of high quality as specified by the ISO.

CDL first outsourced the production of casing prototypes to a service bureau, which used another 3D printing technology. The quality of those prototypes was substandard, brittle and prone to breakage after trial productions, as the material was not durable enough to withstand functional testing.

“Our engineers and designers had to rely on their experience to design and visualize the devices. Also, outsourcing the production of the system wasted significant time and resources on logistics and communications for each iteration”

Building Accurate Prototypes for Functional Tests

CDL then switched to the Fortus 250mc 3D Printer and ABSplus thermoplastic to prototype the system casings. Stratasys 3D printing helped Madanagopal arrive at an optimized design more quickly than CDL expected. The printed models were so precise that engineers could perform functional testing on the living hinges and snap-fit closures.

“Accuracy and durability are definitely the strongest advantages of the Fortus system. Additive Manufacturing enables us to experiment with various designs, perform functional tests, and drastically shorten our iteration cycles. We can now produce the casings in a few days in-house, drastically accelerating time-to-market.”

3D printing was instrumental in identifying design flaws, as well as verifying all functionalities for designers and engineers at CDL. It would have been disastrous if the team identified errors, such as signal interference, after the design left for production.

Great Innovation Pays Off

After producing various iterations in-house, fitting all the electronic and transmission components into the casings was easy. The functional prototypes could also act as beta products – they have been used on voluntary subjects to help improve minor cardiac signal glitches.

3D printing also helped the lab secure necessary funding to commercialize the cardiac care system. As a startup enterprise, CDL’s innovation received initial grant from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research of the India government in 2013. 3D printed prototypes helped CDL to secure government funding to commercialize the care system.

“It could have taken us several months to come up with the present design, let alone a presentable version to concerned stake holders. 3D printing has accelerated the development plan of MIRCaM. We are now excited to mass produce the system and have them widely implemented at more local hospitals. We hope more patients can benefit from more accessible medical care.”

As Additive Manufacturing technologies and materials continue to advance, the technology is experiencing ever-growing utilization within the realm of medicine. With applications ranging from creating educational medical models from real-world scan data, to surgical guides formed from industry-tested engineering thermoplastics,  Additive Manufacturing continues to revolutionize practicies within and beyond a hospital setting. Keep your eyes peeled for future blog posts highlighting further uses of the technology within medicine, as well as research projects spearheaded by Cimetrix.