By Marion Willam
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Research is the alpha and omega of innovation and continuous improvement. Hannah Riedle from the Institute for Factory Automation and Production Systems (FAPS) at Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) dedicates her doctoral thesis to modeling with silicones. Her partnership with WACKER’s ACEO team gives her the opportunity to test this material with a groundbreaking 3D printing technology.
Biomodeling is meant to display anatomic structures and can be subdivided into two fields: individual and generic models. Individual models are produced for a very specific purpose — e.g. pre-surgical testing, prostheses, or epitheses. Generic models have an educational function. Think about the models used at school in biology, or for med students. More and more of these models are being 3D printed individually in hospitals or e.g. among oral and maxillofacial surgeons. Until today, the choice of 3D printing materials is limited and thus the models are only applicable for very limited purposes. At the same time, the modern radiological procedures such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans deliver data. These data can be used to create 3D printed models with new materials such as silicone, which is what Hannah Riedle focuses on.
When she started the research for her doctoral thesis in 2015, she read a press release from WACKER, announcing a new silicone 3D printing technology under the brand ACEO. Her initial call resulted in a 3-year research project to evaluate and establish 3D printing with silicones in biomodeling, and to find a way to translate MRI or CT data so they can be easily integrated in the 3D printing process. Together they define which applications might be interesting for ACEO’s technology, and Hannah can 3D print her own parts and evaluate the opportunities first-hand. While she gets help from the team whenever needed, ACEO benefits from Hannah’s insights and learns what their technology needs to deliver.
3D printing with silicones has a major advantage for biomodeling: it allows to create organic structures with complex interior structures. It offers a variety of applications and comes in different degrees of hardness. With the use of silicone we entered a new level of individualization and applications. The manifold properties make this material flexible, elastic, it can be deformed and afterwards it re-creates its original form. Silicone can even be cut and stitched, making it the perfect material for pre-surgical planning and testing. A surgeon could 3D print a patient’s heart using imaging data and practice the planned steps in almost real conditions and thus anticipate and reduce complications during the surgery.
3D printing with silicones might significantly expand existing markets of medical applications such as prostheses or epitheses while complementing older technologies. Hannah’s contribution in this field could help improve certain medical treatments or therapies and have an impact on medical education with more realistic generic models — making a big difference in people’s lives by facilitating pre-surgical testing.