From Parts to Hearts

November 14, 2016

Normally, when we talk about 3D printing, we talk about printing a part or a tool. But what if we could print something that could save a life? How about a heart?

Not a real one, obviously, but a scale model. Over the past year, Caterpillar engineers from Marketing & Digital’s Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) Factory in Mossville, Illinois, have worked with engineers and doctors at Peoria’s Jump Trading Simulation & Education Center, to create two 3D-printed heart models using technology beyond the capabilities of Jump’s own machines. In both cases, Caterpillar engineers worked closely with Jump’s engineers to review and translate real-patient MRI and CT scan data into printable files. 

“To get the full capability of a 3D printer, you have to have to have engineers who know how to use it. And so many 3D printers that have popped up, don’t,” says Dr. Matthew Bramlet, pediatric cardiologist and Jump’s Advanced Imaging and Modeling program director. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the models we’re getting from Caterpillar’s lab are top-notch, because you don’t just have a printer. Your engineers are top-notch and you have quality. That’s remarkably demonstrated when we get a model back.”

The first model was a cross-section, printed in clear material, with colored arteries, which allowed the doctors to see specifically how the arteries went through the heart muscle abnormally. The second model was printed in a flexible material, which allowed the surgeon to identify exactly which portion of muscle needed to be removed, and actually practice the surgery on the model. 

In addition to providing a critical tool physicians can use for improving patient care, the out-of-the-box project also provided an opportunity for our engineers to learn more about the technique of 3D printing and the capabilities of our machines. 

“This has been a really exciting partnership,” commented Additive Manufacturing Product Manager Stacey DelVecchio. “Working with Jump and OSF gives us the opportunity to take advantage of complex geometries that might otherwise not see in our day to day. We can take what we learn here and apply it to future applications.”

Jump is one of only a handful of facilities in North America, and the only one in the Midwest, doing this high-level, detailed type of 3D printing work. In addition, they’re working to curate a 3D Heart Library for the National Institute of Health (NIH) 3D Print Exchange, which would allow other physicians access to 3D print files of documented defects, which could impact treatment plans of countless patients.

Thanks to each of the team members that worked on this project. You can learn more about the 3D hearts printed by Caterpillar and the impact they had in a story featured in the Peoria Journal Star published on November 13. 

 

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