Packaging Digest is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Sitemap


Articles from 2020 In December


Packaging Design

Best in New Food and Beverage Packaging 2020

Vjom/Adobe Stock The Best Paper Confetti AdobeStock image 88690384

Food and beverage brands constantly launch new products and new packages, many of which are posted to social media — if you can find them. Starting in the summer of 2020, Packaging Digest highlighted the best of them on a regular basis, with the most recent “find” at the beginning. You can quickly scroll through to see the selected posts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loop is definitely gaining traction here and there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adult Happy Meals? lol.

 

Too good not to include...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This spring-loaded point-of-purchase display is convenient to load and unload.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The value of PET/rPET for big brands.

Cucumbers turn greener as coating replaces plastic wrap.

The brand is prioritizing package options for online sales and experimenting with direct-to-consumer commerce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plastic or paper? Pasta brand prefers paper.

 

Lay's goes international in flavor and design:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Healthcare Packaging

In Pursuit of More Sustainable Packaging Solutions

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay recycling-304974_640.jpg

In the Virtual Engineering Week session, “How to Make Medical Packaging More Sustainable,” Jennifer Griffin, senior packaging engineer at Medtronic, shared her recent visit to a tranquil fishing village along the Atlantic in Massachusetts. She spoke of noticing the still waters, when suddenly, the quiet was interrupted by a loud, rapid, pinging noise.

 

It was a seagull in a white rowboat, playing with a piece of plastic trash, picking it up in his beak and dropping it onto the hard surface of the boat and into the water. “He was purposely dropping it into the water and then retrieving it,” Griffin said. “I had never seen this behavior before. This looked like a child playing with a toy.

“For me, that was a really sad reminder of our impact on the natural world,” she said.

Medical device companies can make a difference when it comes to sustainability, but there is some work to do. Griffin reported that only 33% of healthcare companies on the S&P 500 publish sustainability reports, compared with 82% of all companies of the S&P 500. “It really demonstrates where our whole med device industry is lagging in this arena,” Griffin said.

Griffin shared in her presentation several ways in which Medtronic is making packaging more sustainable. Her first example was how the company funds research at the Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (CB2), which is a group of researchers from four universities, she noted. “The effort here is to generate renewable resources instead of using fossil fuels,” she said.

Medtronic also participates in industry groups to promote initiatives, such as the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council, she said. The council is working toward an economically viable solution to divert plastics away from landfills, including plastic used in secondary packaging that protects products without coming into contact with them.

“We're also buying sustainable packaging,” she said, citing an example of an insulin pump for diabetes patients. The trays are made with biodegradable and compostable packaging materials.

“We've also created a sustainable packaging working group,” Griffin said. It is a volunteer team of packaging engineers, along with environmental health and safety staff from each of the Medtronic businesses. The group champions efforts to integrate environmental factors into the package development process and advocates for environmentally sustainable, customer-focused packaging solutions.

Medtronic has an annual EHS sustainability award, Griffin said. If her audience members didn’t have such an award at their company, Griffin reminded them that the Institute of Packaging Professionals hosts the yearly Ameristar Award, which has a category for sustainable packaging. “So that might be a place if you have a package that you are proud of.”

Griffin shared an example of how Medtronic redesigned existing packages to reduce weight and size. The improvements included removing an excess layer of barrier plastic and decreasing the size of the product cartons. “It wasn't just a win for us in terms of reducing material and shipping sterilization costs, but also a win [for] healthcare facilities in terms of storage.” It had another surprise benefit. She related that she learned on a visit to several hospitals that department managers said that they were buying this product because it had the smallest package of all its competitors.

Other ways she said Medtronic is moving toward sustainability in packaging are eliminating literature where possible and supporting environmental purchasing programs developed by their customers.

Griffin suggested her audience could make an impact at their companies by not just focusing on whether they pass design verification, but also by conducting major barrier testing at the design concept phase to eliminate over packaging.

Also, “the next opportunity is cost reductions,” Griffin said. “One thing I feel strongly about is changing to local suppliers. The reduction in fossil fuel use by reducing transport, whether by truck or plane, and then the associated reduction in greenhouse gases, can really add up.”

Griffin noted that compliance projects to get packaging up to the state of the art sometimes lead to redesign. “That affords us a great opportunity for source reduction,” she said.

She reminded her audience to use ASTM D7611 plastic resin coding symbols to make sure clinicians know what they can recycle.

And lastly, she encouraged the use of plant-based materials. “That's a very exciting field still in progress. But there are things you can do today,” she said. “Any package layer that's not direct product contacting, you have the opportunity to use recycled content. Stretch film. Palletization. Stretch wrap. Corrugated board components, including shipping containers. Are we specifying these with recycled content in our specs? We can be.”

For those interested in getting more involved, Griffin invited them to join the sustainability subcommittee of the Medical Device Packaging Technical Committee of the Institute of Packaging Professionals. She noted that the subcommittee is currently on hiatus, but it could be restarted. She urged anyone interested to contact her for more information.

She also recommended people reach out to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition for more information. “This group has created courses that are available on-demand, online, on all these different sustainability topics related to packaging,” she said.

Griffin ended her talk by inviting the audience back to the harbor scene. “Let's minimize our impact on the environment,” she said. “When the seagulls seem to be saying ‘you can make a difference,’ I'm counting on you.”

 

Article courtesy of Packaging Digest's sister publication MD+DI.

Healthcare Packaging

Delivery Device Breathes New Life into Existing Nasal Steroid Treatment

Image courtesy of Optinose Optinose

About 30 million Americans suffer from chronic rhinosinusitis, Ramy Mahmoud, M.D., tells MD+DI, and the condition “causes a lot of distress and impairment,” he says. About 10 million of these patients have nasal polyps and use nasal corticosteroid sprays for relief. Many patients remain symptomatic, however, and they often turn to injections or even surgery, explains Mahmoud, who serves as president of Optinose.

 

A system from Optinose for delivering those corticosteroids deep in the nasal cavity may enable an effective next-step treatment option before injections or surgery, according to a recent study. The system is US FDA approved for the treatment of nasal polyps in patients 18 years of age or older and is marketed with fluticasone in the new delivery system under the trade name XHANCE. Published in the International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology, the journal of the American Rhinologic Society, "Efficacy of the exhalation delivery system with fluticasone (EDS-FLU) in patients who remain symptomatic on standard nasal steroid sprays" shares data that XHANCE offers a step to care that enables improvement.

“This isn’t just another delivery device,” says Mahmoud. “We are looking at something clinically different because of the delivery device technology.”

He explains that “the nose is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ — most of the nasal cavity is deep in the skull, beneath the eyes. It is a convoluted labyrinth of passages that gets inflamed and creates a lot of symptoms.” Some of this inflammation “is much higher up” in the cavity, he adds.

“Most inhaled nasal drugs don’t reach these areas, and some of them get into the throat,” he continues. “We need to be able to take the steroid and put it into new areas.”

Optinose has developed the device to get medicine “much farther back and up,” explains Mahmoud. It features a “mouthpiece that the patient blows into and a nosepiece that seals to one side of the nose. When the patient blows into it, it elevates and seals the soft palate, which isolates the nasal cavity from the oral cavity. The medication is introduced during that breath, and it can’t exit into the back of the mouth because the palate is sealed, so the medication floats around everything and is deposited on all surfaces in the nose.”

image001.jpg
Ramy Mahmoud, M.D.
President of Optinose

The device doesn’t use exhalation to deliver medication by force, but rather “creates a different physiology in the nose: a closed palate, bidirectional flow, and positive pressure,” he says. That physiology “creates a different pattern of drug deposition — the same drug, in a different spot.”

Because a topical corticosteroid “only works where you put it,” a device that extends the delivery surfaces beyond those of conventional delivery systems could have a meaningful impact on drug effects. “Everything we’ve ever tested shows you get non-bioequivalence with an exhalation delivery system compared with a standard nasal spray,” he says.

The new study showed that the exhalation delivery system provides just as much benefit to people who continue to have symptoms despite using ordinary nasal steroids as for someone who has never used a one. “Putting the steroid in a new spot is like using a new product,” explains Mahmoud. “It’s like a brand-new step to care. It is very well tolerated, and its safety profile is like that of other nasal steroids. And it’s not nearly as big a deal as surgery or regular injections.” FDA did want safety data on the new approach to steroid delivery, because even though it isn’t delivering a new drug, it is putting the drug in a new place, he adds.

The device used for XHANCE uses a breath-powered mechanism similar to Optinose’s first product, a dry powder delivered nasally to treat migraines. The company licensed that drug product to another company but retained the IP for the delivery mechanism.

In addition to the above-mentioned study, the company is in the midst of two large clinical trials worldwide, says Mahmoud. These trials are testing XHANCE for the treatment of chronic sinusitis, an indication with no FDA approved drugs today, noting that early results are expected at the end of 2021.

Optinose is also exploring whether the device could be used for “an antiseptic that the company believes could be used to kill viruses like those that cause COVID-19 or influenza,” he says. “Most people are infected through the nasal route. If we can treat patients prophylactically, we could prevent infections. Or if a patient is infected, we could prevent development of symptoms.

“If someone who tests positive for COVID is told to isolate, wouldn’t it be great to prevent others in the household from getting infected or to help infected patients from progressing?” he adds.

The company had developed the antiseptic internally with ingredients that have an existing safety profile. “We are likely to seek an external partner once we receive feedback from FDA,” he says. In the meantime, the company continues lab testing to determine the antiseptic’s effectiveness in killing various viruses.

 

Article courtesy of Packaging Digest's sister publication MD+DI.

Pouch-Filling System Appeals to Cannabis Packers

Image courtesy of Massman Automation Designs LLC Pouch_Filler_MASSMAN.jpg

Massman Automation Designs LLC , a leader in the design and manufacture of easy-to-operate, innovative packaging equipment for more than 40 years, is also the exclusive North American distributor of pouch-filling systems manufactured by General Packer Co., Ltd. These high-performance machines have made General Packer a global leader in pouch-filling systems, with more than 2,000 systems active worldwide.

 

The precise capabilities of the GP-M3000 pouch-filling system have made it attractive to packagers of cannabis flowers in the growing cannabis industry, which requires precision pouch filling and handling. In many cases, the automated system replaces a manual filling operation, resulting in greater packaging consistency and greater productivity. The features that have made the GP-M3000 popular in the global food industry also are making it popular in the growing cannabis-infused product segment.

The GP-M3000 is designed to automatically open, fill, close, and seal the stand-up pouches popular with the cannabis industry and its customers. It can handle both clear and printed pouches, and the system can effortlessly seal pouches with a variety of reclosing features, including the child-resistant heat seal closures needed for cannabis products. It can also close press-to-close zipper, eSlider, and Velcro for non-cannabis products. Optional gas flush is also available.

Pouches are fed by conveyor into the GP-M3000, which precisely aligns them to assure that pouches get placed into the pouch clamps properly every time. The rotary system then proceeds through successive steps, during which the non-child proof zippers are opened with fingers, date and lot code are printed, pouches are filled and then shaken by vibrators to settle the contents completely. Optional gas flushing is done, if selected, and the pouches are then zipper closed and discharged from the system.

The 10 operational stages available in the GP-M3000 system include several “spare” steps that provide for future production expansion or the addition of new functions the user may want to introduce. In a typical operation, the GP-M3000 can fill from 15 to 65 pouches per minute, depending on pouch size, product volume, and filler used.

The machine is constructed of heavy-duty stainless steel throughout for reliability, and features hygienic design for thorough cleanability. To ensure smooth pouch movement, flat surface areas in the machine interior have been minimized and are free of protrusions such as bolts and rivets.

As pouch sizes change, the system automatically adjusts pouch feeding, pouch opening, gripper width, and pouch vibration to match the new size, eliminating the need for operators to make these adjustments. The pouch heat-sealing unit features a three-minute automated pouch size change capability. Together, these features can reduce changeover downtime by 90% over competitive systems.

Massman Automation Designs LLC, Vilard, MN 320-554-3611 www.massmanllc.com

 

Article courtesy of Packaging Digest's sister publication Powder & Bulk Solids.

Mettler-Toledo Adds Augmented Reality Customer Support

Image courtesy of Mettler-Toledo Augmented_Reality_METTLER_TOLEDO.jpg

Mettler-Toledo Product Inspection is leading the way for product inspection manufacturers with the inclusion of remote Augmented Reality (AR) Customer Support.

 

The new service enables remote identification of the cause of product inspection equipment issues and enables Mettler-Toledo engineers to instruct on-site manufacturing staff, regardless of knowledge level, how to rectify the problem. This helps to maximize production line uptime, save costs, and comply with COVID-19 social distancing requirements.

The state-of-the-art service allows manufacturers to securely connect remotely to the Mettler-Toledo Service Team to deliver diagnostic and repair services for both hardware and software. In addition, it can be used to support the delivery of remote user training and equipment start-ups. AR works by enabling the users to interact with real-world objects by placing virtual spatial markers, highlighting aspects, and adding text annotations to a live video stream of the product inspection equipment. Manufacturing staff does not need any prior knowledge or engineering expertise about the product inspection equipment as the Mettler-Toledo Service Team will demonstrate step-by-step what is needed to rectify the issue.

“No-one has ever considered remote support to be life-changing, but with our new Augmented Reality Customer Support offering, that is about to change,” says Fabian Kramer, service product manager, Mettler-Toledo Product Inspection.

“This is a really slick, intuitive, and interactive tool that will set new standards in fast break-fix support times, putting our engineers right there, next to our customers, wherever they may be in the world. Most importantly, customers will benefit from significantly less downtime, helping them to operate at peak performance for longer. Plus, AR makes social distancing measures easier to maintain."

Service support plays a key role in controlling costs and maximizing uptime and performance of product inspection equipment and software. Available on a range of different levels, service contracts provide peace of mind that product inspection equipment is optimized, delivering preventive maintenance, on-site and remote support, plus performance verification.

 

Article courtesy of Packaging Digest's sister publication Powder & Bulk Solids.

Healthcare Packaging

Thermo Fisher Scientific to Add 15 New Production Lines

Image courtesy of Thermo Fisher Scientific Newsroom Photos Company 1.jpg

Waltham, MA-based Thermo Fisher Scientific is moving to expand its manufacturing footprint in Europe and North America with the addition of 15 new development and cGMP production lines at four of its facilities.

 

“We have continued to invest strategically in capacity, technology and expertise across our global network so we can accelerate innovation and enhance productivity for our customers,” Mike Shafer, senior vice president and president, pharma service for Thermo Fisher Scientific, said in a recent release. “This has enabled us to respond quickly and support our customers with unprecedented scale and depth of capabilities to meet high demand for new therapies and vaccines. By simplifying the supply chain and solving complex manufacturing challenges, we shorten development timelines in order to get high-quality medicines to patients faster.”

The company will expand its plants in Greenville, NC, Swindon, UK, and Ferentino and Monza in Italy. New assets will support the development of sterile drug products and the production of medicines, therapies, and vaccines.

Thermo Fisher Scientific also recently announced expansions in Asia, including a new sterile manufacturing plant in Singapore and a new integrated biologics and sterile drug development and manufacturing site in Hangzhou, China.

“With these investments, we’ve nearly doubled our global footprint for drug development and commercial manufacturing, which allows us to support our customers with unmatched flexibility, expertise and scale at a time of unprecedented demand,” Shafer said.

 

Article courtesy of Packaging Digest's sister publication Powder & Bulk Solids.

Viatris to Close Several Oral Solid Dose and API Plants

Image courtesy of Pixabay tablets-5620566_1920.jpg
Representative image

Pharmaceutical firm Viatris will close five production facilities across its footprint in a bid to cut at least $1 billion in costs by the end of 2024, the company announced in a recent release.

 

During the restructuring initiative, the company intends to close its oral solid dose production plants in Morgantown, WV, Baldoyle, Ireland, and Caguas, PR and its Unit 11 and Unit 12 active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) manufacturing sites in India.

Job cuts will take place at the impacted facilities over the next several years. Viatris said it will work to find buyers for the plants and save as many jobs as possible.

“The actions we are announcing today are consistent with our commitment to optimally design our new company to operate efficiently. This initiative is part of Viatris’ roadmap to ensure we can maximize long-term value creation for shareholders and all stakeholders, including the patients and customers that we serve,” said the firm’s CEO, Michael Goettler, in a statement.

Viatris also indicated that further reconfigurations of its drug manufacturing footprint are on the horizon.

“The company expects to optimize its commercial capabilities and enabling functions, and close, downsize or divest up to 15 manufacturing facilities globally that are deemed to be no longer viable either due to surplus capacity, changing market dynamics, or a shift in its portfolio toward more complex products,” the company said in the release.

Up to 20% of the 45,000 workers employed by Viatris could face job cuts as the restructuring plan proceeds.

Nestle Recalls Frozen Meals for Possible Plastic Contamination

Image courtesy of USDA FSIS Screen Shot 2020-12-21 at 9.32.41 AM.png

Nestle Prepared Foods of Springville, UT issued a recall for 92,206 lb of Lean Cuisine Baked Chicken meal products after receiving five complaints from consumers that pieces of hard white plastic were discovered in the food, the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said in a release.

 

The recall involves 8 5/8o-oz. carton trays of “Lean Cuisine Baked Chicken, white meat chicken with stuffing, red skin mashed potatoes and gravy” that bear a lot code of 0246595911 and a “Best Before” date of October 21. They also have the establishment number “EST. P-9018.” Nestle Prepared Foods manufactured and packaged the products on September 2.

Five consumer complaints were received by Nestle on December 18.

“The firm believes the mashed potatoes used in the production of the baked chicken meals products had pieces of a plastic conveyor belt that broke during production,” the FSIS release said.

No reports have been received linking the products to injuries or illnesses. Those in possession of the recalled products are urged to throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

 

Article courtesy of Packaging Digest's sister publication Powder & Bulk Solids.

Pandemic Jumpstarts 2021 Digital Transformation

Adobe Stock AdobeStock_209992028.jpeg

Life is getting very interesting for manufacturers during this pandemic. According to a McKinsey Global Survey of executives in October, companies have “accelerated the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years.” The report goes on to note that “the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios has accelerated by a shocking seven years.”

 

Here at Design News, we’re hearing the refrain over and over from manufacturers, vendors, and analysts: COVID-19 has significantly accelerated the move to advanced technology. “Manufacturers are set to experience five years of innovation in the next 18 months, as the current pandemic has demonstrated the need to adopt digital tools to automate processes, obtain real-time information, and create agile supply chains to comply with new restrictions,” Keith Higgins, VP of digital transformation for Rockwell Automation, told Design News. “Manufacturers must be agile and flexible to adapt to this ‘new normal’ in a COVID-19 world.”

 

Rockwell AutomationRockwell dashboard.jpg

Automation dashboards are part of the path in the digital transformation.

 

Turning to Technology to Solve Manufacturing Difficulties

Manufacturers have been forced to innovate during this shutdown era. For many companies, that has happened fast. “As factories in highly impacted regions remain shut down and operating factories are forced to function with less staff to comply with social distancing requirements, manufacturers need to quickly adjust operations to accelerate production while keeping employees safe,” said Higgins.

The same technology that has enabled manufacturers to remain open during the pandemic looks to become core in a tech revamp that will likely continue after the pandemic passes. “Automation and remote technology such as augmented reality training are becoming critical technologies for manufacturers to implement to ensure social distancing guidelines are being met,” said Higgins. “Companies that are the furthest along in digital transformation will perform the best as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. These companies will return to the highest business level and have greater competitive advantage post-virus due to their more agile manufacturing environments.”

 

Older Tech Is Getting a Facelift

Even companies that already have robust technology are deploying new technology. “We’re seeing double-digit growth in our digital areas,” said Higgins. “Our investment in PTC lets us shift processing to the edge. Why is that happening? Too much data to move. We’re still working with MS quite a bit, but the cloud is adding on. That’s affecting decades-old control technology.”

Emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality are getting traction during this unusual time. “One of our oil and gas companies came to us to help with recruiting having to do with VR, AI, digital services,” said Higgins. “One of the tools is augmented reality expert capture, which uses augmented reality to have an experienced person do a maintenance task, record it, and have the procedure done by somebody who is young. They can follow this great precision and you can get the training done with great efficiency.”

 

Will Technology Solve the Age-Old OT vs. IT Issue?

In the past, the tension between the priorities of OT and IT was worked out through blended committees with representatives from each group. Guess what. That’s shifting to technology, too. “People have been talking about IT/OT integration for a while, but what does that mean? Now ThingWorx automatically determines what needs to be done,” said Higgins. “We’re seeing the analytical mashups, seeing data from OT and IT at the same time.”

Those applications will still require people in the workforce who understand the nature, the role, and priorities differences of OT and IT. “The final piece is the integration of deep OT data with automation tools,” said Higgins. “Anyone who understands IT and OT is going to have a long life of employment opportunities.”

 

OK, Boomer, Move Along – Tech Is Taking Over

Another refrain we’re hearing over and over is that the retiring knowledge worker won’t be replaced by a younger knowledge worker. Instead, technology will step in. “Technology is helping to fill the gap left by recent retirees. Making things more efficient,” said Higgins. “When something breaks, we don’t always know what went wrong. Going out with solutions once you identified the root cause, you can move from scheduled maintenance to predictive maintenance.”

Technology will also help manufacturers solve the ever-growing shortage of skilled workers. A workforce shortage plagues industries across the US. In manufacturing alone, there are almost 500,000 jobs open in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Deloitte identified that between 2018 and 2028 persistent skills shortage could risk $2.5 trillion in economic output for manufacturing,” said Higgins. “To solve these issues, manufacturing organizations look to digital transformation initiatives to empower their workforce and enhance efficiencies from the shop floor to the top floor.”

 

Remote Visits and Remote Working

COVID-19 has ushered in a world of remote visits and remote work. Companies are discovering there are significant savings in the shift away from travel and office space. “The pandemic has made the use-cases such as remote training, virtual site visits, and inventory observations a priority for many companies,” Edy Liongosari, co-chair of the Industrial Internet  Consortium Thought Leadership Task Group and chief research scientist at Accenture Labs, told Design News. “These use-cases are expected to continue even after the pandemic, especially since all of the necessary infrastructure, equipment, training is already put in place because of the pandemic.”

Once the pandemic is over, companies will begin to evaluate what work can continue to be done remotely. They will want to make any savings permanent if possible. “The work that requires plenty of physical manipulations – such as warehousing – or needs to be operated in highly secured facilities will continue to be operated in those designated facilities. Others may adopt a hybrid or even a completely remote workforce,” said Liongosari. “The pandemic has certainly pushed the envelope of many companies to adopt remote working practices. We expect some percentage of this shift will continue post-pandemic.”

As all of these changes take place in one plant, manufacturers will likely extend the resulting savings and efficiencies at their other facilities. “We’re seeing an inflection point in digital transformation. Now it’s: ‘I have the first factory of the future going and we’re getting the ROI, and now how do I do it with six more plants?’” said Higgins.

 

 Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cybersecurity. For 10 years, he was the owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

 

Article courtesy of Packaging Digest's sister publication Design News.

Overcoming the Limitations of Additive Manufacturing

Image by krzysztof-m from Pixabay 3d-printer-3308166_640-3.jpg

Additive manufacturing as an industry has grown about $10 billion in the last 10 years, reported Dayton Horvath, industry analyst and consultant at NewCap Partners, during Virtual Engineering Week. He estimated the global market size to be “somewhere just shy of 12 billion.” The number of printer manufacturers has continued to increase dramatically—there are now more than 250 manufacturers worldwide, across all printing technology categories, he shared during "Overcoming the Limitations of Additive Manufacturing."

 

“The value chain is fairly complex,” he said, speaking of the connections between types of companies involved in additive manufacturing. “You've got material suppliers and processors that are concerned with taking raw materials and transforming those into the correct feedstocks, whether it be pellets, powders, filament, or even sheets to be used in various 3-D printing equipment,” he explained. “Those feed out to both users of printers, and obviously the printer manufacturers that in some cases want to have additional specialty materials, or for whatever reason, modify them for better success with their systems.”

On the design and manufacturing software side, he said, there is a digital file or drawing that needs to be reverse engineered, and it will need to be run through CAD engineering manufacturing software. “Those are slowly being integrated, but I'd say there's still a long way to go in terms of having an efficient digital workflow for your part designs,” Horvath said. “Marketplaces have cropped up to help address that inefficiency between the vast number of companies that are looking to use additive, but don't want to buy printers outright, much the same way a lot of CNC machine tool shops exist as a service provider to larger manufacturers.”

Horvath stressed that part design and manufacturing, and most important, qualification, is going to require collaboration, partnerships, and more communication than might be expected from other industries, to be successful in delivering parts that are for production use. “Where specifications have to be met, where certifications require certain rigor on the data side, it needs to be a team effort, and that's why you see so many partnerships coming into play amongst these groups,” he said.

The most popular technology categories of additive manufacturing in the medical sector, Horvath said, in order from the most to least, are material extrusion, because of the prototyping and product development angle; selective laser sintering; fusion, which is the most popular for implants; and vat photopolymerization, which is used in prototyping and surgical planning.

“Material jetting, binder jetting, and bioprinting kind of round out the technology categories used in medical applications,” he said. In terms of material classes, Horvath said polymers and photopolymers, more specifically high-performance thermoplastics, are most used because of their quality from a composition, structure, and performance standpoint.

 

Challenges

Horvath then spoke about some of the challenges and benefits in medical additive manufacturing. The first challenge involves the materials processing component. “We're not getting a certified, validated, tested material from a supplier and then making a part out of it,” he said. “We're creating or modifying or otherwise altering the properties of the material as we are making something with additive, and, as a result, there's a whole lot of variability in properties and potential for defects. These are all major concerns when coming into the requirements for sterilization, consistent performance in terms of mechanical properties, thermal properties, and also variability in terms of fit.” 

The second challenge is expense. “Medical has great margins and luckily there are fewer issues with its cost-effectiveness, then, for example, consumer packaged goods, but nonetheless 3-D printers and printable materials are expensive relative to traditional manufacturing processes in almost all cases,” Horvath said.

Printing processes are difficult to control repeatably, Horvath also noted. “That's why we've largely stayed away from production parts and done more prototyping and product development molds and tooling, because as long as you get one right, you're okay. If you have to do 10,000, and they all have to be right, you're going to have pretty high variability,” he said.

Last, it is difficult to have a single organization that covers all the expertise sets that make additive work well, Horvath said. “You need good design engineers. Some materials expertise. You need to be at least as familiar with the hardware as the manufacturer and obviously, there's the whole software workflow and post-processing, which is often a manual and lengthy process for some of these technology categories.”

 

Benefits

The first benefit of medical additive manufacturing is a short turnaround. “I've seen examples of implants being turned around in three days, which really enables certain cases where that is crucial to the use of what you're printing. There's a custom fit to a given patient, and in that same vein, there's a major reduction in operating room times because you don't have to worry about the fit and adjusting a generic part to a custom scenario.”

There is also increased design freedom. “There's a lot of greenfield opportunities in terms of device performance modifications that can be made to what's always been the norm, because you're fundamentally building up from nothing, rather than starting from a block and working your way down,” Horvath.

Horvath suggested some ways for companies to overcome the challenges of additive manufacturing, mentioning connecting the digital design to production part workflow. “I'd say we've got another five to seven years before we get there, but it's definitely a trend that's going in the right direction,” he said.

“In terms of repeatability, reliability, and skill and knowledge requirements, a lot of people say you need a PhD to run an industrial 3-D printer,” Horvath said, noting that they would not be entirely wrong. “But I'd say, as printer design and process has become incrementally improved, there's more competition in the market. You'll eventually see the benefits of that in terms of the end user and hopefully that will broaden additive manufacturing adoption as a whole.”

“The last point is scalability,” Horvath added, noting that metal 3-D printing is still very slow because the printers are still very expensive. “I'd say some of the large-scale opportunities for direct 3-D printed parts are going to be in polymer, not necessarily metal. Obviously, you can't compete with metal in some of the part requirements, but I'd say, keep your mind open when looking at what materials could get the job done for you."