GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In a lab in downtown Grand Rapids, Grand Valley State University students are helping develop what may be the future of medical device manufacturing.

GVSU is one of only six universities in the nation and the only one in the Midwest researching the use of 3D printers to make certain parts. So far, the use of 3D printers has been limited in medical manufacturing.

“What we’re doing here is we’re studying the scalability of 3D-added manufacturing of medical devices,” said Dr. Brent Nowak, the executive director of GVSU’s Applied Medical Device Institute.

Or in layman’s terms: GVSU researchers are trying to determine just how far the field can move from traditional manufacturing.

The process almost sounds simple: Pour in the polymer, send specs for the part to the printer and let the printer do its thing.  

“Instead of heating up and cooling to make solid, you’re projecting UV lasers in the form of pixels up through it to solidify the material,” Noah Keefer, a senior at GVSU taking part in the project, explained.

That’s one of the technological differences between traditional manufacturing and 3D printing.

Using a $500,000 Grand Rapids Smart Zone grant, which takes a portion of taxes collected from Smart Zones and makes it available for economic development projects, GVSU’s 3D program is meant to improve the industry as much as the actual devices.

Food and Drug Administration-approved materials are used in the process, and the method doesn’t require the injection molds and other components used in traditional manufacturing.

“It’s going to allow us to fabricate parts that quite literally could go right off the machine and after cleaning, go right into a med device,” Nowak said.

“What this offers us is the potential for reducing time to market, reducing the front-end costs of contract manufacturing including tooling and injection molding parts,” said Rick Shorey of MediSurge, a West Michigan-based manufacturer partnering with GVSU.

He said the technology could cut production time for new parts by nearly six months.

“For startup companies or for companies that are looking to get a quick start on med device technology, this could be extremely advantageous,” Shorey said.

The program will run for the next two and a half years. More than a dozen graduate and undergraduate students are participating.

The 3D technology was supplied by Silicon Valley-based Carbon Inc. It’s the same company that created technologies that allow shoemaker Adidas to create shoes with custom midsoles for customers.