axial3D is leading the way in making the use of 3D printed anatomical models accessible and routine throughout hospitals and medical institutions across the globe.
One of the ways we aim to do this is through our commitment to producing and shipping patient-specific 3D printed anatomical models within 48 hours.
Read on to find out what goes into this and how we deliver such fast turnaround times…
First off, let me introduce myself. My name is Craig and I’m a Medical Visualization Engineer within the Operations Team, or, Ops Team for short. The Ops Team is responsible for the creation and production of the 3D printed models. From raw image data, all the way through until the model is completed and ready to be delivered.
We are constantly pushing the boundaries of 3D printing technology, Research and Development plays a big part in helping us find new and creative methods of providing our customers with the best insights through continuous improvement.
Here’s a look at the process for just one of the recent orders that we received for an aneurysm model.
As soon as an order is placed through our online portal, the clock starts ticking towards our 48-hour turnaround guarantee. The order lands with the Ops Team and we jump into action, with no time to waste!
Data comes through via our Cloud-based ordering platform; completely anonymized and ready to begin the model creation process. Any customized model specifications, such as required anatomy, model color, materials, and internal composition are picked up at this stage too. The specification for this model was a solid skull, colored white, with the vessels contrasted red and in-situ. I find this to be one of the more popular combinations as the contrast is great at representing the vessels in their anatomical location which stands out very well against the white anatomy.
The image data is processed through axial3D’s segmentation algorithm, giving an output of pre-segmented DICOM data which accurately represents the patient’s anatomy. The algorithm does an outstanding job of picking up the detailed structures and landmarks, of course, but this isn’t enough on its own. To ensure perfection, the data is always scrutinized by our segmentation experts, ensuring 100% accuracy and the highest quality for every model produced.
As each image in the DICOM stack is checked by our team, they ensure that the pre-segmented image accurately displays the anatomy shown in the CT scan. During this process, the data is refined right down to individual pixels – ensuring accuracy and quality throughout the entire process.
In areas of extreme detail such as the maxillofacial region, where there are very intricate and in-depth pieces of bone, pixels can be removed from the prediction. Small adjustments can also be made in order to show intricate elements which may have been missed by the algorithm, guaranteeing the final model is accurate to the scanned data.
Quality comes first.
Once the operator is content that all of the data is accurate, we implement the first of our quality check procedures. Two different members of the Ops Team check the data to ensure nothing has been missed. Any possibility of data misrepresentations or inaccuracies can be taken care of here, before proceeding to the next stage of the 3D model creation process. When the quality checks are completed, the model is then moved onto the 3D pre-processing stage.
Here, any customizations made by the requesting clinician are now added to the model, and the model is built to specification. For this particular example, the model needs to clearly show the aneurysm and its placement. The section of the skull base in the area of interest was cut away in order to leave a specific area relevant to the order. The vessels were also trimmed and defined to show the anatomy required. The vessels were optimized to best show where the main structures are situated, making pre-operative planning easier for the clinical team.
The above graphic shows the complexity of some of the custom-made models from axial3D
Any additional supports needed to connect anatomy, or to support delicate pieces, can be added at this stage too. Once the 3D model has been sculpted to customized requirements, the model is again scrutinized by two different members of the team who check the model is accurate to the anatomy and the specifications given.
From here, a 3D render of the product is created. This is an on-screen visualization of the model which includes all the customized details including color. The 3D render is then sent to the customer, allowing them to have a preview of the model before it is printed. The model can be fully inspected, rotated, and interpreted in this preview render, allowing the clinician to have the final say before printing.
And now, the fun part!
A printable file of the product is generated and given a final check and approval by one of the operations team. The file can then sent to a 3D printer in our in-house print 3D print lab, or on the requesting hospital’s 3D printer. Depending on the size and customizable elements of the model, print times will vary depending on the size of the final product.
In the short space of a few hours, the 3D printed anatomical models are produced to specification and made ‘customer-ready’ at the post-processing stage. For this model, support marks are removed to achieve a consistent finish. Then color is added to the vessels so that they are clearly marked out and easily distinguishable.
Finally, after all of the post-processing has been completed and the model is in its finished state, another quality process is then carried out. This is when the physical 3D printed anatomical model is measured against the original DICOMs from the scan, down to an accuracy of 0.1 of a millimeter. This process ensures that the final model is exactly accurate to the anatomy shown in the scan.
There’s little more rewarding than hearing good news from a patient case you have worked on!
If you have a complex patient case, I’d love to help. You can request a free model here and see the quality of our work for yourself.