Jun 9, 2015 | By Simon

Although the foundation of mainstream desktop 3D printing was built upon enabling hobbyists, makers and DIYers from all walks of life to be able to create various hardware components quickly, easily and affordably, the use of the technology has taken on many different forms over the past few years that have ultimately led it into different industries.  

Among other industries that has seen a surge of interest in additive manufacturing has been the medical industry - and for good reason.  While the industry has employed the use of some of the most talented illustrators capable of communicating complex scientific or biomedical concepts, the use of 3D has made communication infinitely easier due to the ability to accurately replicate various concepts into exact replicas - both digitally and ultimately, through 3D printing.

As beneficial as 3D printing has been for the medical industry though, many of the various 3D print services that have been popping up over the past few years - particularly those that make 3D model sharing, prepping and printing through a third-party service - have been focused on engineering, hobby, DIY and maker types of users.  

Seeking to eliminate this gap, the NIH 3D Print Exchange has provided an open, comprehensive, and interactive website for searching, browsing, downloading and sharing biomedical 3D print files, modeling tutorials, and educational material for those in the medical industry.  Created as a collaborative effort led by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in collaboration with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development and the National Library of Medicine, those leading the Exchange have been actively working on making their services just as easy to use as the myriad of other platforms that sprouted up out of the 3D printing revolution within the past few years.   

In an effort to make this experience even easier for those in the medical field - who don’t necessarily come from a rapid prototyping background - the Exchange has just announced two new partnerships with existing 3D printing services to make the experience even easier.  

To make slicing, storing and managing 3D print files easier than ever on the cloud (and subsequently, available on all devices), the Exchange has teamed up with AstroPrint, the CloudOS for 3D printers.  The AstroPrint platform allows for users to upload a 3D model, add supports, slice a model, and save the gcode for use at any time from any connected device.

“The goal at NIH is to increase access to 3D printing for bioscientific discovery and education,” says NIH’s James Tyrwhitt-Drake.  “Our web-based tools make it easy for anyone to generate a 3D-printable model from raw scientific or medical data. Our team has been looking forward to adding the AstroPrint feature, because it makes the printing step just as simple.

Some have compared the AstroPrint user experience as a combination of 3D printing software such as  Cura or Repetier Host with the convenience of cloud storage.  The best part?  This new offering is free for Exchange users; all that’s needed is an active account.  

"AstroPrint's vision of enabling a one-click 3d print API is now closer to reality with the implementation of this developer tool", said Daniel Arroyo, AstroPrint's President and CTO, "If your business offers 3D Printable content, we want to work with you to help you distribute that content in the most user-friendly and straightforward way in the industry."

In an email to 3Ders, Arroyo also stated that AstroPrint has integrated the same functionality in 3DaGoGo, Watertight and are working with other design marketplaces.

While the AstroPrint integration is certainly going to help make the NIH experience significantly better than before, the Exchange has also announced that they will be partnering up with Netfabb to make mesh repairs easy with the use of the platform’s cloud based mesh repair application.

Oftentimes with 3D scans and imported models, errors can be difficult to find and even more difficult to fix.  The Netfabb application aims to make this experience as painless as possible by locating and fixing holes, inverted normals, intersecting faces and isolated pieces that can cause problems during the 3D printing process.  

“The Netfabb process has been integrated into our pipelines to ensure the integrity of the models on the Exchange,” added Tyrwhitt-Drake.   “Models that are generated with our tools - for instance, if you upload raw scientific or medical data, or use our "Quick Submit" feature - are sent automatically to Netfabb for analysis and repair. If you are uploading an STL or WRL file through a ‘Share’ form, you'll have the option to check a box ‘Ensure printability with Netfabb.’ Your file will be sent to the Netfabb service in the Microsoft Azure cloud for cleaning, and the new files are saved in the model entry.”

Although the 3D printing movement hasn’t been as big in the medical industry as it has in the DIY and hardware development communities, innovative platforms like NIH who are rapidly responding to the needs of a friendly user experience are certainly on the right path for narrowing that gap.  


Posted in 3D Design



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