Danish Healthtech er medfinansieret af Uddannelses- og Forsknings-ministeriet og Den Europæiske Fond for Regionaludvikling.

3D printing in the healthcare sector from a supplier perspective

Particle 3D_hero-implant

How do you succeed with a new technology like 3D printing? Read more to get advice from three directors on how to create a market for 3D printing in the healthcare sector.

The national innovation network Danish Healthtech continues MedTech’s work with 3D printing in the healthcare sector. The work was launched at a conference in May 2019 that involved relevant actors from knowledge institutions, health care institutions and private companies. In this article, we start in the private business world when three directors share their experiences developing new healthcare technology.

Particle3D

Casper Slots from the company Particle3D has experienced a fast development with 3D printing. In 2015, he and his partner Martin Bonde Jensen completed their joint bachelor project in 3D printing, which should prove to be of great importance to the health sector. Two years later, the graduated civil engineers from the University of Southern Denmark, together with their supervisor Professor Morten Østergaard Andersen, founded the company Particle3D.

In their bachelor project, their starting point was a challenge from the real world and they were in dialogue with the jaw surgeon and associate professor Torben Henrik Thygesen, who runs the Clinic for Jaw Surgery. In his clinic, Torben Henrik Thygesen had challenges in reconstructing a face after a traffic accident or cancer, and he had ideas on how 3D printing could remedy these.

As Casper Slots and Martin Bonde Jensen’s bachelor project progress, in what would later be called Particle3D, they find that they have a unique technology. The invention is to mix a ceramic material with a fatty acid that can be used in desktop 3D printers, among other things for the production of bone implants.

The strong thing about our bone implants is that they are made of natural materials, have the shape and structure like real bones, and are porous, thereby transforming into the body’s own bones over time,” says Casper Slots, CCO, Particle3D.

The technology developed further at the University of Southern Denmark and in close collaboration with supervisor Morten Østergaard Andersen. The university has applied for patents in large parts of the world, which are currently in the process of being issued in Europe.

A private person could hardly have developed such a project alone. In order for such a project to be completed, there must be a large range of  facilities and resources available, and not least a good amount of capital, says Casper Slots.

In Particle3D, they have also recognized the need to involve someone who knows how to run a business. That is why Thea Wullf Olesen, who has experience in the industry from previous CEO positions, is hired as CEO.

Today, work is underway to get the technology approved for use in humans, but there is still some way to go. It requires continued cooperation and joint efforts from all parties involved, as well as more testing and capital.

Soon, the technology from Particle3D will be able to be used initially for research and teaching and soon for humans as well. Torben Henrik Thygesen has no doubt that it will greatly benefit both patients and clinicians. The new implants will replace the existing ones that are either made of synthetic materials such as metal and plastic, or are bone pieces cut from the hip or lower leg.

We are still working closely with the University of Southern Denmark and are experimenting with adding different drugs to the implant. For example, we have been experimenting with the release of antibiotics and chemotherapy from the implant . The journey from idea to product is long, especially in the pharmaceutical industry, where requirements and standards are high, so enthusiasm, patience and persistence is needed to succeed, says Casper Slots.

J. Krebs & Co and AddiFab

The company J. Krebs & Co has also depended on the collaboration with knowledge institutions in the development and implementation of their 3D printing technology. Today, the company has two main focuses. Partly blower and injection molding, that they have been doing for many years, and partly Freeform Injection Molding 3D print.

Freeform Injection Molding is a hybrid of 3D printing and traditional injection molding. The advantage is that we can make the negative or the shell with the 3D printer, which we can then cast in with already approved materials. That way, we can work with materials that are approved for medical use. The combination provides a unique opportunity to test prototypes of the right materials from the start while keeping the price down, says Peter Bay, CEO, J. Krebs & Co.

In Denmark, many technology companies are relatively small, which is why they usually do not have the necessary resources to develop and produce new technologies. This means that it is often crucial to cooperate with a large number of actors such as knowledge institutions and other private companies.

One of the companies that J. Krebs & Co works closely with is AddiFab. The company is in the process of moving from innovation to commercial growth with FreeFrom Injection Molding as a technology flagship. The technology is based on AddiFab’s proprietary 3D printers and printing materials, and J. Krebs & Co has taken a position as a global first mover.

To achieve this, it has been necessary to form a consortium with other companies that together have invested in the AddiFab 3D printer, which is placed at Technological Institute in Taastrup.

It is super positive to collaborate with a GTS institution (Approved Technological Service (in short “GTS” in Danish)) like the Danish Technological Institute. They have more resources in terms of development than we have. They have different analytical methods for analyzing materials, and the barrier to investigating something is thus reduced, says Peter Bay, J. Krebs & Co.

At AddiFab, it has been essential to participate in innovation projects and thereby gain access to a talent pool and professional facilities. Developing new technologies requires an agenda that is very difficult for a small business to carry through. We simply do not have the resources to create a top class research and development environment on our own, says Lasse Staal, CEO, AddiFab.

In order for the Freeform Injection Molding technology to emerge, it requires continuous improvements in precision and tolerance. In addition, the production speed must be increased – it is not expected to be as fast as traditional 3D printing, but it must be faster to work with Freeform Injection Molding than to produce in metal. The goal is to be able to deliver small series or prototypes with a short delivery time, where accuracy can be guaranteed.

At J. Krebs & Co, we are still in the prototype stage. We have a lot of success stories, but of course we also have a number of stories where things did not go as we hoped. But that is expected when working with new materials being cast at over 300 degrees and under very high pressure. Now a lot of validation is needed. It takes a lot to develop a new technology, and unfortunately it is common to compare the new technology with an old technology like injection molding. This means that the new technology risks being swept off the track too quickly – which is a shame, says Peter bay, J. Krebs & Co.

In the validation work, it is a clear advantage that the 3D printer stands at an accredited laboratory such as the Danish Technological Institute. Here, a large number of tests of materials and processes have already been made, which they at J. Krebs & Co now do not have to repeat. The collaboration in the consortium also makes it possible to obtain accumulated knowledge, because there is a sufficient critical mass to test. Finally, the verification of materials, which is usually a large expense, can now be shared between the partners and this is absolutely necessary when the companies are relatively small.

We have to constantly develop and not play it too safe. Otherwise, we will be run over by actors from other countries where they are more likely to act faster and “just do it”. In Denmark, we may well be inclined to hold back and have doubts as to whether we will ever live up to the high standards in health and hospital equipment. Our advantage is that we have proximity in the market, says Peter Bay, J. Krebs & Co.

AddiFab has sold their first 3D printers to Danish players, including J. Krebs & Co, but far more to international players. This underlines the trend that both Peter Bay and Lasse Staal point out: many Danish companies are hesitant when it comes to new technology. The Tech Management magazine also highlights the trend in the article “Few Danish companies have seriously grasped the latest technology” from August 13, 2019. Here it is emphasized that Danish companies risk being outcompeted if they do not invest in new technology.

It has given our company at lot of opportunities to make Freeform Injection Molding 3D printing. We are now in dialogue with a number of potential customers that we would otherwise have had difficulties getting in contact with. It has allowed us to be part of the early dialogue on development, which we as a company would like to be. It’s always fun to be a part of the start, says Peter Bay, J. Krebs & Co.

When we cooperate, we can allow ourselves to set far more ambitious goals. In AddiFab we also make metal, ceramics and glass, with support from the Innovation Fund and the EU, and with collaborations with both universities, GTSs and business education. We would never have reached this level without cooperation with other companies and knowledge institutions, says Lasse Staal, AddiFab.

6 advice for succeeding with a new technology 

  • Use a real challenge or case as a starting point 
  • Collaborate with knowledge institutions
  • Collaborate with other companies
  • Participate in innovation projects
  • Seek capital
  • Take chances and believe in your technology

The next article will shed light on 3D printing from a scientific perspective and will convene Assistant Professor Dang Quang Svend Le from Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital for a talk on research and sharing of knowledge for companies and the public in 3D printing.

3D printing events

Munich Technology Conference, October 8-10 in Munich, Germany will be one of the largest AM (Additive Manufacturing) events with more than 400 participating companies focusing on the industrialization of AM from the decision maker’s perspective. Particle3D is invited to attend and sets up a booth.

At the AM (Additive Manufacturing) Summit 2019 event on October 23 in Copenhagen, you can meet Thea Wulff Olesen, CEO, Particle3D, Peter Bay, CEO, J. Krebs & Co and Lasse Staal, CEO of AddiFab.

At the High Tech Summit 2019 event on October 30-31 in Lyngby, the Innovation Network Danish Healthtech will be represented with a track on 3D printing, where among others Peter Bay, CEO, J. Krebs & Co, will speak.


By: Julie Justi Andreasen, consultant, Innovation Network Danish Healthtech, juja@welfaretech.dk
Contact: Margit Kristensen, Senior Project Manager, MTIC, mk@mtic.dk
Photo: Particle3D

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