Start-ups bet on 3D tech to make surgery cheaper


3D printing technology is increasingly becoming instrumental in the medical field. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Two Kenyan start-ups, Micrive Infinite and African Born 3D (AB3D), are investing in 3D printing in a bid to help companies and hospitals cut production costs and significantly improve efficiency.

Micrive Infinite, a medical technology company is enhancing the planning process and improving the outcome of surgeries by use of 3D printing which a study found can reduce the amount of time needed for an operation by 25 per cent. This saves a bout $2,700 per surgery.

In 3D printing, the surgeon is able to study the physical model of the X-ray, plan their cuts, educate the patient and practise before the surgery.

“If it is an instrument that they need to use and they are not familiar with, we make a replica of it and they are able to practise beforehand. If it is a new technique that they want to rehearse, we can look for a similar case and print a physical model or we can get the patient’s information and create one. This will improve the outcome of the surgery,” said Chris Muraguri, the founder of Micrive Infinite.

Last year, the company created a 3D model of a patient who required surgery on a cancerous tumour.

“Initially, the patient required four surgeries but when we created the physical model of the tumour and anatomy of the patient, it was found that one would suffice, which was successful. It was performed by Professor Symon Guthua, a maxillofacial surgeon, and chief surgery consultant at the University of Nairobi,” said Muraguri.

In a study conducted by the University of California San Diego on the impact of 3D printing on conducting surgeries, participants were divided into two groups — one group used 3D-printed models to study the surgery beforehand while the other studied the X-ray images.

The surgeries for those that used 3D were 38 to 45 minutes shorter and the reduction in time would translate into at least $2,700 in savings, reported the researchers.

Micrive Infinite, which was founded in 2015, has invested approximately $16,000 (Sh1,601,608) in research and development in a bid to perfect the process and ensure that it meets the standards of surgeons and patients. So far, it has participated in approximately 35 surgeries but is seeking $250,000 in investment to fully penetrate the market.

Besides improving surgeries outcomes, saving cost and time, 3D printing cuts the production costs for companies in the manufacturing sector.

“It is very different from 2D printing. Whereas the outcome of 2D is paper, with 3D a company can make the actual product, which can be used immediately, cutting production costs. It goes from idea to an actual product,” said Roy Ombatti, founder of AB3D.

Opel, a German automobile manufacturer, in 2015 reported that it had reduced its assembly tool production by up to 90 per cent with the use of 3D printing that enabled it to create the tools in less than 24 hours.

The assembly tools are used to attach the different components of a car. It noted that 3D printing had enabled it to customise them and produce more complex shapes that are adaptable to the different car models.

READ: Leaders must adapt to achieve their purpose

Also, 3D printing allows Opel to involve its assembly-line workers in the design process thereby improving efficiency.

AB3D, which builds the 3D printers locally from recycled electronic materials, was founded in 2015 and has so far worked with several institutions including the Makini Schools and International School of Kenya.

Last year it printed the 3D model that surgeons at the Kenyatta National Hospital practised on in order to safely separate conjoined twins.

“We were fortunate to get a short-term investor who bought us all the equipment that cost Sh700,000 needed to make the machines. For us to gain a footing, we spend a year improving them so as to launch them into the market. In 2015, we sold two machines and we began generating a little revenue. So far, we have sold 58 machines,” said Ombati.

“The 3D machine including filaments, products need to create the physical model, goes for Sh47,000, and when purchased we train them on how to operate the machine.”

- African Laughter