Stryker Orthopedics to jump into 3D Printing
Stryker Corporation, the Fortune 500 medical device and implant giant has been providing orthopedics and related medical equipment directly to doctors, hospitals and other healthcare facilities since being founded in 1946. It now appears as though the company is ready to put a hefty investment into additive manufacturing after announcing the development of a state-of-the-art 3D Printing facility in late 2016.
While the details on the facility were sparse—it was briefly touched on during their recent earnings report webcast—moving further into the 3D printed space for a company entrenched in unique, often one-of-a-kind devices makes a great deal of sense considering 3D printing technology thrives at extreme customization.
That said, this is by no means the first venture into 3D printing technology for the company. The report highlights a growth in hips and knees sales with a 6.4% and 9.1% respective improvement in the quarter thanks in part to an increased adoption of titanium 3D printed parts.
Additionally, the company uses 3D printing in tibia baseplates that enable surgeons to operate without cement, and a 3D printed patella that wouldn’t be possible with any other manufacturing method. They also expect to launch a 3D printed titanium spinal device that, thanks in part to the porous nature of the part, allows a natural, bony in-growth when implanted.
Bill Jellison, Vice President and CFO at Stryker mentioned that “for the foreseeable future, at least the next three, four years or so, our focus is really on innovative new products and not replacing our existing products with 3D printed products. The pipeline of innovative new geometries that can’t be made without 3D printing is the area of focus.”
Admitting that 3D printing will be investigated as a means to create innovative parts instead of as a method to overhaul their entire production process makes sense. Many of their current products wouldn’t be practical with 3D printing and as CEO Kevin Lobo puts it, “the quick summary is that 3D printing metal is very different than the way you think about 3D printing plastic, having it on a desk in an office and cranking out 3D printed products.”
The further investment into 3D printing technology by this publicly traded company should be seen as a display of confidence even after admitting they’re not planning on overhauling their entire strategy around it. It’s already been three years since Lobo spoke of 3D Printing’s future by saying then that, “the potential for significant cost savings is real, but its an industry that’s kind of in its infancy. So it will take time to play out.”
Just as we’ve seen so often when dealing with medical apparatuses like custom prosthetics, 3D printing is the perfect technology thanks to the custom nature of the industry. But, as is often the case, it’ll take time for full-scale adoption. It’ll be roughly ten years until it becomes economical to produce entire 3D printed hips and knees at an economical rate. In the meantime, companies like Stryder are pushing forward with piecemeal innovations with both product releases and now the announcement of their state-of-the-art 3D printing facility.