From napkin sketch to new product: Rapid prototyping service speeds medical device development

rapid 3D prototyping services at hospitals
These custom devices hold fiber optic probes used to measure blood oxygenation in newborns. (Courtesy Noah Schulz, SIMPeds)

Some people bring data and completed designs. Others just bring simple sketches. “We have this idea for this device,” they begin. “It may only help 15 kids a year, but it could really improve their quality of life.”

Other people bring only a clinical need: “We need something to keep babies lying still after their procedure, without having to medicate them.”

To make these ideas more tangible and help launch them down a formal development path, the Boston Children’s Hospital Simulator Program, SIMPeds, has begun making its 3D printing and engineering service available to help hospital staff rapidly prototype new devices.

The service takes the 3D printing program beyond its original mission of printing patient anatomy for surgical planning.

“We’re excited by the growing number of people who have approached us wanting to make devices ranging from medical equipment to replacement parts to tailored devices for our patients,” says SIMPeds Director Peter Weinstock, MD, PhD. “Many of those coming to us are clinicians who have never worked with engineers and need help taking their idea to a first prototype. The response has been amazing.”

Working with SIMPeds engineers, a doctor, nurse or other staff member can go from an idea sketched on a napkin to a first prototype within a few weeks. Current projects include:

  • A wearable device to help mothers breastfeed premature newborns, babies with conditions such as tongue-tie or cleft lip/palate or any infant who is having trouble nursing
  • Adaptive equipment for children with cerebral palsy and other conditions.

“We’re totally excited about this SIMPeds initiative because a lot of the projects we support involve device prototyping where you have to have a lot of iterations—build it, test it, build it, test it,” says Carla Small, MBA, Director of Innovation at the hospital. “Many people hire contract engineering firms, but to keep it in house for that rapid iterating is great. We offer one-stop shopping so people don’t have to go out of house.”

Ideation-Design-Fabrication SIMPeds

The SIMPeds team is also helping inventors research existing products and write grants for further engineering and manufacturing assistance. The team coordinates with Boston Children’s Technology and Innovation Development Office to ensure that intellectual property is protected and works with the Innovation Acceleration Program to help identify funding sources and locate resources for conducting research with the new prototypes. If a device has a software component, inventors can apply for a hospital FastTrack Innovation in Technology award for help in building it out.

Next up: a full-service SIMPeds Engineering Core for inventors at the hospital, slated for early next year. The core will be equipped with six 3D printers, a 3D scanner (for scanning anatomy), laser cutting and areas for virtual reality and special effects creation. “The scanner can literally scan a patient’s body in a matter of minutes, and, with a bit of engineering, our 3D printers we can create customized devices that fit that patient exactly,” says Melissa Burke, SIMPeds director of operations.

“Our ultimate goal isn’t just to make widgets on demand, but to empower people to take the next steps with their ideas,” Burke adds. “We’re simply an engineering stepping stone to the inventor’s next phase.”

SIMPeds’ rapid prototyping capabilities will be on display at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Global Pediatric Summit + Awards (November 9-10; #PedInno15).