Stratasys Launches Revolutionary Digital Anatomy 3D Printer and Polypropylene Material for SAF

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Stratasys is showcasing progress across multiple domains at RAPID + TCT 2024. In addition to partnering with AM Craft to produce aviation components, the company has also partnered with BASF on SAF and released a new digital anatomy printer. Previously, the firm enabled OpenAM to be included in the F900, allowing the use of materials from outside vendors on the large FDM machine. For example, the VICTREX AM 200, a PEAK compound by a leading PEEK firm, is now supported. The Somos NeXt material has also been made available for the workhorse NPS Vat Polymerization systems, and the F770 now offers more ABS colors.

Overall, Stratasys is pursuing four key strategies simultaneously. The firm is working to make its existing equipment more open for manufacturing by allowing the use of external materials and developing new machines such as the F3300. It is partnering with materials and other firms to create more application-centric offerings. It is developing more application-specific machines, such as the fashion and anatomy printers. Lastly, the company is expanding the capabilities of its existing systems and installed base to better serve its clients. This balanced approach could enable Stratasys to generate more revenue from existing clients, increase revenue from manufacturing, and gain more profit from specific solutions. However, this is a balancing act, and if not managed carefully, the company could risk cannibalizing its existing revenues while failing to move into higher-volume areas.

PP for SAF

One important area for Stratasys is its selective absorption fusion (SAF) technology. The Stratasys H350 could offer a cheaper way to manufacture polymer parts at scale, potentially being more efficient, faster, and cheaper than powder bed fusion alternatives. However, introducing a new technology to the 3D printing industry is often time-consuming and demands patience. The company is now partnering with BASF Forward AM to introduce polypropylene (PP) for SAF. Polypropylene, one of the most widely used materials globally, could find many applications in prototypes, industrial components, consumer products, and more. Stratasys hopes the material will be especially useful for automotive components like housings and ducting, orthotic devices, and consumer sports gear such as shin guards, as well as flexible pipes and intricate sensor mounts.

The idea of using PP for shin guards is appealing because it represents a high-volume application that could be lucrative. The use of PP for flexible pipes is an obvious choice, but it is an application that is often overlooked. Being lighter in weight than many TPUs and generally soft but durable, PP could become a widely used material in various industries.

“With superior nesting ability and a total turnaround time of less than 36 hours, SAF PP allows customers to produce hundreds of parts in a single build. This boosts productivity and cost efficiency, delivering high-quality parts at a lower cost,” said Neil Hopkinson, Vice President of Additive Manufacturing Technology at Stratasys.

Lowering part costs is crucial for Stratasys. If it can demonstrably achieve this, it will drive adoption for SAF.

“The surface finish of SAF PP parts is unparalleled. The fine detail resolution and uniform appearance are far superior to any other PBF printed PP we have seen, significantly enhancing the visual appeal of our final products,” said Philipp Götz, CEO of beta customer Götz Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG.

That would be very good news indeed, as concerns have been raised about surface finish and part optics regarding SAF. If those fears prove to be unfounded, more people would likely consider SAF as an alternative to other powder bed technologies.

J5 Medical Machine

The Stratasys J5 is a new entry-level medical modeling machine designed specifically for Digital Anatomy. It resembles existing Stratasys equipment but is tailored for this particular application. Currently, over 200 hospitals worldwide have 3D print labs. In surgical planning, training, and patient consultations, medical models are invaluable. They allow the showcasing of rare pathologies and help guide patients through complex decisions regarding future procedures.

There is no clear leader in the digital anatomy market, with many institutions using Formlabs or Ultimaker printers for this purpose. Stratasys hopes to stand out with its systems by offering more colors, different densities, and varied textures. Additionally, the company has conducted research to mimic the feel of real tissue and vasculature, which could make a significant difference in teaching applications.

“The J5 Digital Anatomy printer is designed to be user-friendly and facility-friendly, making advanced anatomical modeling accessible to a broader range of medical institutions,” said Erez Ben Zvi, VP Medical for Stratasys.

Cheaper than the existing Digital Anatomy systems, the Stratasys J5 could significantly expand Stratasys’ reach in hospitals. This PolyJet system produces nicer-looking and feeling parts, but the material and printer costs are much higher than alternatives. For Stratasys to make inroads in this market, it needs to emphasize the superior haptics and color quality of its models. In specific areas like vascular surgery, this could be a decisive factor, while other surgeons might prefer to produce cheaper models more frequently.

The printer comes with BoneMatrix material that mimics porous bone, TissueMatrix for tissue, a support material, and a radio-opaque material. The system is 510K cleared and has ISO 10993-1:2018 and ISO 18562-1:2017 certifications, allowing users to make models with limited tissue and bone contact, permanent skin contact, and gas pathway models. Additionally, the materials and manufacturing processes are ISO 13485 certified, which should provide users with reassurance regarding quality and safety.

The GrabCAD Print Digital Anatomy Software is designed to simplify 3D printing and file handling. Support materials are water jet soluble. The maximum part size is 140 x 200 x 190 mm, while the system itself measures 651 x 661 x 1511 mm and weighs 253 kg.

Overall, we can see a coherent plan by Stratasys to create application-specific material and printer combinations that integrate well with software. Simultaneously, the firm is aiming to enable lower-cost per part and larger-scale production. The strategy appears sound, but we will have to wait and see if polypropylene (PP) will be adopted at scale for production and if hospitals will turn to the J5 in large numbers.

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