Peek behind the paper: a closer look at HARP technology
3DMedNet takes a closer look at 'high-area rapid prototyping' (HARP) technology with study author, James Hedrick (Azul 3D; IL, USA) in this exclusive 'Peek behind the paper' interview.
I am Dr. James Hedrick, CEO and co-founder of Azul 3D (IL, USA) which is commercializing the first 3D printing technology capable of competing with the speed, strength, and economy of scale of injection molding. I started my first company at the age of 16. The profits paid for my college tuition at MIT (MA, USA), where I was also a student athlete. I went on to receive my PhD Chemical and Biological Engineering at Northwestern University (IL, USA) with Professor Mirkin, during which I was part of the team that developed seminal technology at the core of Azul 3D. I am the author of 14 peer reviewed papers and 4 patents.
Could you tell us about any current (or recent) projects?
Our current project is working to integrate the HARP (High Area Rapid Printing) technology that we recently published in Science into a machine capable of disrupting the manufacturing sector. This involves bringing the three main components of 3D printing (hardware, chemistry, and software) collectively to a higher level in order to produce parts with the quality, reliability and throughput that traditional manufacturing processes have. At Azul 3D, we have brought together an amazing team from across the globe that lives, eats, and breathes 3D printing to make this project a reality.
How do you envision your technology benefiting the medical field?
The medical field has the greatest possibilities for disruption.
The ability to customize parts on demand is essential to providing patients the personalized care they require and deserve. This is why there are so many great examples of 3D printing in the medical field already as 3D printing is uniquely qualified to meet these needs. With our technology, we can increase the production rate and material properties compared to the status quo. This dramatically expands the number of applications that can be addressed within the medical field. This is extremely important to us since there will be a huge improvement in quality of life for people around the world with every new medical device made.
What challenges have you faced in developing HARP technology?
The largest challenge that we face with the HARP technology is finding the right users that are ready to make the leap into manufacturing with 3D printing.
Our 3D printers are a great tool for manufacturing, but ultimately it is only as powerful as the ones using it. With 3D printing, there is a whole new set of design rules compared to injection molding. It enables a broad range of possibilities not previously available, but only when you take advantage of it. We are overcoming this hurdle in two ways. The first is by finding amazing companies that are already investing in resources by training their innovation teams on how to design with additive manufacturing. The second way we are solving this is by working with customers to redesign their existing products. We find the best way to learn is by doing, so our team works together with manufacturers to design their next generation parts that are optimized for our printers. We find this reduces their prototyping time and results in a better product.
What’s next for you and your research?
I am fortunate enough to get to see my current research evolve from conception all the way to commercialization.
I am very appreciative to be part of this experience and process because as a researcher, you may not get very many opportunities to do so.
The next step for me is to put Azul 3D’s printer onto factory floors of manufacturers ready to take the leap. At the same time, we are pushing the boundaries on new materials for our printer that can meet requirements of a large range of products from medical devices to industrial goods. The future is not only about printing fast, but also about printing with materials that can meet the application’s demands.
Where do you see medical 3D printing in 5–10 years’ time?
I predict that we will see 3D printing being utilized in increasing proportion for end-use medical parts. This will be in factories that are manufacturing medical devices as well as at the point of care within hospitals.
Imagine being able to print casts, surgical guides, and musculoskeletal braces, among other parts, on-demand in the basement while the patient is at the hospital.
With the technological advancements coming in 3D scanning and CAD software, it will be possible to rapidly customize parts on demand, thereby eliminating the current software bottleneck in the production of customized goods. Eventually, 3D printing will become common place and it will be standard practice to have your devices, from medical to everyday, customized for you.