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3D prototyping broken and deformed bone anatomical models to educate doctors

Dr. Alexis Dang, MD, is an orthopaedic surgeon from San Francisco, California and an Associate Professor of Sports Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and the San Francisco VA Health Care System. Alexis has been in practise since 2004 after graduating from the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. Dr. Dang has developed 3D printing tools for the instruction, scientific, and therapeutic uses at the University. He is a co-founder of Edge Labs that began at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery as well as UCSF CA3D+ programme aimed to increase 3D printing and AR/VR across campus.

As a University dedicated to research and education, developing the technology for 3D printing and its related processes in-house was preferred over outsourcing. When outsourcing, you need to know what you want and need. With clinical 3D printing still in its infancy, these indications are not always clear. Using Polylactic Acid (PLA) and Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol (PETG) filaments, they were mostly focused on 3D prototyping of broken and deformed bone anatomical models to educate doctors on how to best operate on patients. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the University also printed face shields, eye shields and additional medical device components.

There is a Makers Lab on campus where they have been using FDM and SLA 3D printers for the previous four years, but these were larger models that took more time and projects needed to be arranged in advance to allow ample time for production among departments. This prompted Alexis to look into more 3D printers for the team’s exclusive use.


Alexis understood from his research that the most significant features he was looking for in a 3D printer were twin independent extruders, which would allow them to print parallel projects in dual color/material, as well as a huge build volume. This led him to the Craftbot 3D printer line.


Alexis chose the Craftbot Flow IDEX XL variant, which he refers to as the ‘Cadillac’ model, as the best Craftbot model for the crew. Alexis was particularly drawn to the dual independent extruders, Core XY system, and capacity for big volume projects. The machine runs faster and quieter thanks to the 32-bit motherboard and touch screen.


When questioned about other benefits of the Craftbot technology, Alexis mentioned how simple the ordering procedure was. While the Craftbot systems may have proprietary parts, there are a number of resellers around the United States, making it simple to re-order. The 5-year warranty, which is unique to Craftbot, makes them more appealing than other competitor printers.


Despite the fact that the Craftbot systems at the University have only been in use for a few months, Alexis and the team have already generated a number of clinical prints, precision anatomic models for pre-surgical planning, and prototypes for instructional and simulator projects.


Alexis mentioned that the Craftbot printers use open source filaments, which he likes whenever feasible.

3D printing enables doctors to improve surgery planning and performance, resulting in better outcomes. According to Dr. Dang, there is a rising appreciation for the significance of 3D printed precision anatomical models. When compared to closed systems, the cost of each model is approximately an order of magnitude lower when employing high performance desktop printers like the Craftbot and open source materials.