Skip to main content

Next generation 3D print technology (PICSIMA), which for the first time enables the direct full colour printing of silicone to make soft tissue prostheses, orthoses and removable partial dentures.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PICSIMA (Next generation 3D print technology (PICSIMA), which for the first time enables the direct full colour printing of silicone to make soft tissue prostheses, orthoses and removable partial dentures.)

Reporting period: 2015-06-01 to 2015-11-30

This Phase 1 project has enabled Fripp Design and Research to validate the strength of the IP of our unique 3D printing method for silicone rubber. It has also enabled us to focus on where the real market opportunities are for 3D Printing silicone rubber are which has allowed us to develop a strong business case for the opportunity.

In 2013 Fripp Design Limited received a €30K grant from the UK Government to explore the feasibility of 3D Printing two part RTV silicones, more specifically silicone rubber. The idea for 3D Printing silicone came from a combination of 10 years industrial design experience (using a variety of commercially available 3D Print technologies, some operated by the company) and a project that was commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, namely to develop a method for 3D Printing soft tissue prostheses using commercially available hardware and software.

The soft tissue prostheses project relied on the creation of a starch based scaffold which was post infiltrated with commercially available medical grade two part RTV silicones. The industrial challenge for the company was to try and eliminate the starch stage and 3D Print silicone directly.

With the UK Grant this technical challenge was achieved. Platinum silicones are widely used in industry where the rubber creates objects through the process of moulding. With the method discovered by Fripp Design Limited, it could now be possible to create rubber parts without the need for moulding. This not only reduces the time and cost in making parts, it introduces new design freedoms which could create new market and business opportunities as well. However the company did not develop the method based on an identified market need, they developed it as an Industrial Design challenge.

The method discovered, which the company has branded as Picsima (for Pixel Silicone Maker), is simple so the company wanted to validate the novelty and inventiveness of the IP.

The Phase 1 grant has allowed the company to research the market opportunities and develop an IP strategy. The company can report that the European Patent Office have confirmed both the novelty and inventiveness of the IP claims. Interestingly the markets the company thought would benefit from Picsima (such as custom shaped breast implants) are not the markets with the actual need (markets such as Medical Simulation/Training aids and custom consumer ear plugs) . The research shows that the global market for 3D Printing silicone rubber is worth up to €500M with interest in the areas of consumer specific devices (ear plugs), medical training/simulation aids, rapid prototyping of gaskets/seals and foot orthotics.

Fripp Design and Research is both a user and inventor of 3D Print technologies. It is in a unique position to develop its discovery for 3D Printing silicone rubber into a commercial 3D Printer for 3D printing silicone.
"1. Task 1.1 Analysis of the consumer and industrial devices market

The first task undertaken was an in-depth analysis of the global RPD, orthotic and prosthetic devices markets specifically targeting the UK, France, Germany and the US – the countries where the company have strong links within the medical field. This analysis was done utilising published market survey reports. The company conducted field specific studies and surveys by engaging with various stakeholders who have a vested interest in the ability to create silicone rubber through 3D Printing rather than moulding. The study was carried out in a 5 month period with the focus on the specific market requirements for each market and assessment of the market acceptance of our proposed product.

Purpose (e.g. to demonstrate viability)

The key purpose was to demonstrate the market need to 3D Print silicone rubber, rather than mould silicone rubber. The principle reasons for 3D Printing any material are:
1. It reduces the time and cost to make a component by eliminating the need to create a mould
2. It introduces new design freedoms where moulding restricts particular types of geometry
3. It allows for the creation of ‘person specific’ products; from custom consumer devices to patient specific medical devices

3D Printing was invented in the early 1980s. In 1981, Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute invented two 3D Printing fabricating methods of a three-dimensional plastic model with photo-hardening polymer, where the UV exposure area is controlled by a mask pattern or the scanning fiber transmitter. Then in 1984, Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corporation developed a prototype system based on this process known as stereolithography, in which layers are added by curing photopolymers with ultraviolet light lasers. Hull defined the process as a ""system for generating three-dimensional objects by creating a cross-sectional pattern of the object to be formed. Hull's contribution is the design of the STL (STereoLithography) file format widely accepted by 3D printing software as well as the digital slicing and infill strategies common to many processes today. The term 3D printing originally referred to a process employing standard and custom inkjet print heads. The technology used by most 3D printers to date—especially hobbyist and consumer-oriented models—is fused deposition modelling, a special application of plastic extrusion .

Many materials are capable of being 3D Printed, however silicone rubber has always been a challenge because:

1. Extruding silicone makes it impossible to create ‘overhangs’
2. Extruding silicone makes it impossible to create complex internal structures (such as internal tubing)
3. Extruding silicone makes it impossible to create variable softness in a single part

The process discovered by Fripp Design Limited overcomes these limitations. An additional important consideration with silicone rubber is that silicone rubber is a material already approved for both industrial and medical use. This differs from all other polymer based 3D Print technologies where materials are created specifically to enable the 3D Print method to work which restricts their application, particularly in medical applications.

Method (summary of the work done)

The company has undertaken a number of methods to validate the market opportunity for 3D Printing silicone rubber.

The company produced a test rig to prove the concept for the method for 3D Printing silicone rubber envisaged. This allowed for the testing and validation of the markets identified with potential customers.

The test rig has allowed for the implementation of internal research. To support the Phase 1 market validation, the company created a website and established a twitter account to communicate and educate the market about 3D Printing silicone rubber.

In addition the company has used the Phase 1 funding to cultivate relationships with key stakeholders with"
The action has demonstrated a number of markets for 3D Printing silicone rubber. From a socio economic perspective the most significant opportunity could be the elimination of gel from silicone breast implants. However there are a number of significant shorter health benefits for the technology in the are of sleep apnoea and foot orthotics.

From a social perspective, the project also demosntrates the potential for consumer demand in consumer specific custom devices (ear plugs being the most prevalent example discovered to date.

The Feasibility project has confirmed demand for the product, freedom to operate and evaluated our planned commercial strategy. We are now preparing a Phase 2 application to further develop PICSIMA. The current objectives are:
a) Continue the IP strategy in securing patents for the UK, Europe, North America and India
b) Develop a Picsima system capable of 3D Printing silicone rubber in a variety of softness and at a sub 100 micron layer resolution
c) To initiate market testing within the identified markets, specifically looking for agents and partners to resell the technology proposition
d) To instigate the research and development to create a Picsima system capable of 3D Printing a variety of softness in a single build (creating multiple shore hardness parts)
e) To instigate research into other two part RTV polymers (such as acrylics and epoxies)
f) To develop plans to move Picsima from an in house bureau service to a global manufacture of 3D Printers

These objectives will be achieved by Q2 2017 subject to funding by Q1 2016.