3D printing stalwart Stratasys (Nasdaq: SSYS) has announced that it will invest $10 million of a $15 million round in medical 3D printing firm Axial3D, making a very public statement as to Axial’s prospects. Furthermore, the companies will jointly bring to market a patient-specific medical 3D printing solution.
“We are proud to be partnering with Stratasys, and have always believed in their technology and, more importantly, their vision for 3D printing in healthcare. We believe that to move the industry from early adopters to the mainstream, we need to improve the accessibility of models for healthcare so hospitals and medical device manufacturers can scale their patient-specific programs. Our joint offerings will be the positive, disruptive catalyst that medical 3D printing needs to address 3D printing accessibility,” said Axial3D CEO Roger Johnston.
Joint Medical 3D Printing Solutions
Axial3D is a Northern Ireland-based startup that enables the easy segmentation of medical files, with print preparation software to convert them into 3D printable models, along with a service that will perform the 3D printing, as well.
Stratasys has long had an interest in patient-specific anatomical models. The firm has a J850 printer specifically for producing such tools, made possible by Medtronic. Stratasys’s PolyJet technology is well suited to making precise, colorful objects that can be used to teach and plan surgeries. Its fused deposition modeling (FDM), meanwhile, is ideal for 3D printing practical and inexpensive planning and pathology tools that are easy to handle.
An increasing number of hospitals now have 3D printing labs. Often, they invest in desktop systems, such as those from Ultimaker or Formlabs. Stratasys, of course, would like them to invest in its own systems more often. An integrated solution with Axial3D could make this more likely.
“Many of the world’s leading hospitals are already benefiting from our MediJet and Digital Anatomy 3D printers for medical models. We believe that by working together with Axial3D, we can remove the barriers to entry for the remaining majority of hospitals in many countries around the world, dramatically growing the use of 3D printing in pre-surgical planning so it is truly a standard part of patient care. This is about providing a complete tailored solution for customers that is fast, automated and scalable,” said Stratasys CEO Yoav Zeif.
Alternatively, Stratasys could have looked at Korean firm MedicalIP, which has innovative automated segmentation tools and also makes medical models for hospitals. There’s also 3DLifePrints, which has just received clearance for its software, which allows hospitals to order parts with software assistance.
Axial3D could ultimately provide such a complete solution to hospitals and doctors, performing segmentation alone, generating 3D files for planning, creating printable STLs, or offering parts-as-a-service. This kind of use is sure to explode over the years.
The Growth of 3D Printed Surgical Models
As a means illustrating specific pathologies to medical students, educating patients, and aiding doctors in prepping for medical procedures, 3D printed surgical models are fast becoming more prevalent in hospitals worldwide. In communicating important medical choices and procedures to patients, a 3D printed “choice model” could let allow them to better understand one surgical option over another.
Doctor time is at a premium and local assistants are often expensive and overworked. Outsourcing these tedious tasks can be cost effective and convenient. What’s more, Axial could perform a lot of work by hand and then automate more and more as volume grows. Apart from the 3D printing opportunity, there is a much larger opportunity for automating, business process outsourcing, and making physicians more effective through software.
For Stratasys, this could lead to a steady stream of parts for its service business, using its materials and its printers. Later on customized braces, orthopedics, and other medical devices could be lucrative. I love this way to approach the market generally. These companies are not making customers buy a machine and then wait months until they can use it. Instead, they offer a simple and easy way for them to get their parts 3D printed. To me, the most successful propositions will be approached similarly. No STL, design, planning, or investment. Just order the part as you wish it to be and someone will do the rest. This to me is the way to accelerate 3D printing growth.