Rapid prototyping is used by designers and engineers worldwide to improve designs as well as reduce both development time and, cost.

There have been many improvements to rapid prototyping technology over the years. Improvements include increased accuracy, wider material selection, and higher speeds. This has made rapid prototyping a promising candidate for use in the medical device development process where regulation is strict and development time as well as costs are increasingly important. In this post, Design Development Engineer, James details some of the advantages of utilising rapid prototyping throughout the design & development process.

What are the advantages of rapid prototyping for medical device development?

Here are five major advantages to using rapid prototyping in medical device development:

  • Speed to market
  • Reduced development cost
  • Risk mitigation
  • Testing
  • Custom designs

1. Speed to market

The medical device market is highly competitive. Technology that can help accelerate your device into production faster than your competitors should be utilised. Rapid prototyping allows designers to bring ideas to life in a matter of hours instead of weeks or sometimes months. These prototypes can then be used to establish quick validation on whether a design will be feasible and so worth developing. Rapid prototypes can also be used to present new concepts to boards members, clients or investors to help them understand the projects benefits and subsequently, approve the development or product.

2. Reduced development cost

Medical devices are notoriously expensive to develop. A great way to reduce this cost can be by utilising technology such as 3D printing to shorten iteration loops and feedback time. You can create low-cost parts and components that can be used and tested singularly or combined with other prototyping methods and parts to quickly present concepts to clients, colleagues, users or stakeholders. It is also more cost-effective to print several ideas or variations on one build plate. This means you can finetune a feature (such as clips, mechanisms, or flexible features) or test several concepts at once.

3. Risk mitigation

Mitigating risk is a critical part of any product development process, especially in medical device development. Assessing the function of a quick printed prototype can reveal potential risks that may not have been identified in a CAD model. These risks can then be managed and designed out. This increases confidence in the overall product which can help when navigating the regulatory process and even reduce the risk of any potential recalls in production.

Being hands-on with a device early in its development means you can begin assessing and making consideration for other important aspects of device development such as Design for Manufacture (DFM) and Design for Assembly (DFA). You can even produce prototypes for users to test, such as in formative Human Factors studies while the device is still in development. This enables you to gather valuable feedback on your design in order to maximise usability and ensure that you don’t waste money and time developing a solution that isn’t viable.

4. Testing

Sometimes, there is only so much a virtual CAD model can offer and so often, a combined approach of both physical and virtual testing works best. By utilising rapid prototyping, parts can be quickly manufactured and tested against specifications for both functional and usability purposes. Overall, testing throughout the design process will help create a much more competitive product through revealing additional gaps and challenges for the designer to overcome in a project.

5. Custom designs

Rapid prototyping’s unique advantage over other manufacturing methods is the ability to create complex internal geometry that can’t always be replicated by using other technology. This allows the designer to make products that can be printed to suit individual patients/surgeons. There is now a wide variety of biocompatible materials, finishes and textures that can be 3D printed. Rapid prototyping can therefore be used in medical fields like reconstructive surgery, dentistry, or prosthetics. This allows patients to have comfortable, custom devices that are contoured to their unique body shape.

In conclusion, rapid prototyping is an extremely useful tool when developing a medical device. Do you need additional resource or insight on your new product or medical device development? Get in touch to discuss how Haughton Design can help accelerate your project.

Product Design Engineer, James McPherson James McPherson 15 September 2022


Get in Touch with James McPherson

James graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2018 with a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering. Prior to joining HD, he worked in the automotive sector designing Exterior Trim systems for Jaguar Land Rover. As a result of this, he has a strong interest in plastic part design and additive manufacture, and hopes to contribute this knowledge to Haughton, as well as learning new skills that can benefit the company. He is keen to start his training to become a Chartered Engineer at HD.

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