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Professor Leonard O’Sullivan

Director of the Rapid Innovation Unit, School of Design, University of Limerick and Funded Investigator in Confirm Research Centre

Innovative 3D printing is being used to make personalised medical devices for hospital patients.

Bespoke medical devices are being created by 3D printing to meet clinical needs in a hospital setting.

The devices, that resolve clinical issues and enhance quality of life for patients, are being made to order by a specialist unit run by the University of Limerick, working closely with doctors at the University Hospital Limerick Group.

Professor Leonard O’Sullivan explains that the 3D printing technology is developing rapidly to create devices that would not generally be available. “In our programme of research, we focus initially on how we can advance plastic-based medical devices that are worn outside the body and can be used to advance clinical care for patients,” he says.

Smart manufacturing

The unit, led by Research Lead Kevin O’Sullivan and Technical Lead Dr. Aidan O’Sullivan is advancing 3D printing as a smart manufacturing technology to benefit patients. Two recent examples include delivering solutions for a teenager with cancer and a child with cystic fibrosis.

Professor O’Sullivan, who is Director of the Rapid Innovation Unit at the university’s School of Design and an investigator in CONFIRM – which is the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Research Centre for Smart Manufacturing – says there was a need to cover the cancer patient’s protruding eye to keep out light but ensure the eye remained moist. “The clinical care staff had no current solution, so we used 3D scanning to scan the patient’s face to engineer a bespoke eye cover,” he adds.

3D plastic printed solution

With the cystic fibrosis patient, the feeding tube into the child’s abdomen had cracked but clinicians wanted to avoid replacing it under surgery, so a 3D plastic printed solution was designed and fitted to repair the cracked tube and delivered within 24 hours.

Professor O’Sullivan says this shows the value of 3D printing in delivering a rapid response; finding a solution where one was not previously available; and advancing smart manufacturing technology in a hospital to solve a clinical need where there was no previous alternative.

This shows the value of 3D printing in delivering a rapid response; finding a solution where one was not previously available.

Working with clinicians

The bespoke devices also recognise that patients, and their medical conditions, vary in shape and size whereas traditional medical devices are made in set sizes. The team recently moved manufacturing to the hospital site to work more closely with clinical colleagues to understand the day-to-day challenges they face.

Professor O’Sullivan says: “By locating the smart manufacturing technology at the hospital brings us to the ‘coalface’ so we can interact with our clinical colleagues in exploring opportunities for advancing and applying the technology. Collaboration in design and manufacture is crucial.”

CONFIRM is Ireland’s research centre for cyber-physical, intelligent, networked manufacturing systems and digital supply chains enabling high-impact business transformations.

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