In many ways, we are witnessing a perfect storm of technology that drives the explosive growth of the wearable Health Tech industry. In addition to low-cost, low-power, miniature sensors and sophisticate wireless data transmission, 3D printing provides advantages ranging from fast and inexpensive prototyping to the affordable fabrication of complex devices designed to match an individual’s needs.
One problem with many 3D printers is that they rely on thin plastic filaments. These are melted and deposited on previous layers of plastic, using a print head much like a hot melt glue gun. The problem is that the new layers don’t adhere as well to the prior layers as they might. If the prior layers are heated to the point where they make a strong bond, you risk melting the entire object and losing its shape.
Researchers at Texas A&M University have created a spin-off company that addresses this problem. TriFusion Devices has developed a system that coats the plastic filament with carbon nanotubes. When they are deposited, microwave emissions are aimed precisely at the junction between the new and prior layers, which cause the nanotube materials to heat up. This creates a localized heating that results in a much stronger bond. The company is initially focused on prosthetic limbs; the process allows them to create custom-fitted devices in hours instead of weeks, and at a lower cost than traditional fabrication methods. The company was recently awarded a $400,000 prize in the Rice Business Plan Competition for student startups.
Advances such as this technology from TriFusion will continue to accelerate the growth of Health Tech devices, lowering costs and improving outcomes.