Medical: Innovation Hub - Manufacturing Collective enables cost-effective production
Leveraging the resources of the mHUB Innovation Center, Verena Solutions is able to provide cost-effective, qualified parts.
When a young company is trying to both maximize profits and deliver for customers, it's next to impossible to tackle alone. Verena Solutions, a contract design and manufacturing services house, found itself up against significant cost and resource hurdles when mapping out a manufacturing strategy for one of its clients in the dental and medical space. Instead of falling back on a homegrown solution, Verena found the answer in mHUB, a Chicago innovation center. mHUB opened doors to 3D printing technology and new traceability software to pave the way for Verena to achieve a cost-efficient production run and satisfy the needs of its customer.
Specializing in the dental and medical space, Verena's first project was SimpleCAP, a redesigned vision for an advanced dental needle system, engineered for simplicity and ergonomic safety. The project also created a wealth of experience in design and manufacturing, inspiring the firm to expand its contract services.
A dentist with distribution rights to a portable X-ray system presented Verena with its next challenge. The mobile unit created a cost-effective way for dental shops to outfit their practices with X-ray capabilities without having to buy individual units for each exam room. However, the current design featured a handle grip that required two hands for operation, making it too cumbersome for practical use in dental exams. “It torqued the wrist so it wasn't usable, and without a handle it was hard to hold," noted Michael Infanger, president of Verena.
After an in-depth analysis, the Verena team came up with a three-piece plastic system that was designed for injection molding processes. Yet there was a problem with the plan: the client was currently committed to limited production—around 50 to 100 units a month—so a traditional injection molding approach was cost prohibitive. While the individual parts would not be overly expensive once the tooling was in place, the equipment investment would be upwards of $30,000.
Verena had been a member of the mHUB innovation center from the very beginning. mHUB, launched in 2016, is a collaborative group of local manufacturers and technologists. The members work together to promote growth for the Midwest manufacturing industry to reduce the cost and barriers to entry for commercializing physical products.
mHUB maintains a well-equipped prototyping shop and a variety of labs, including those for 3D printing, electronics, laser cutting, software, plastics, and testing. The innovation hub is also steadily building out its microfactory capabilities to support onsite low-production runs.
With the totality of its resources, mHUB offers a powerful approach to product engineering challenges. That is, access to professionals with a wide range of engineering and design experience, as well as a diverse selection of state-of-the-art prototyping and fabrication equipment, says John Welin, prototyping shop manager at mHUB.
“Startups and individuals normally do not have access to the advanced fabrication methods or engineering talent that ensure a successful project without a significant amount of capital," he explains. “Between prototyping capability, programming, and the help community, mHUB helps to close the resource gap for those early stage companies."
It was through those connections that Verena got acquainted with the FORMIGA P 110, a small-frame laser sintering 3D printer from EOS that supports everything from rapid prototyping to small series production. The printer's precision laser, improved heating system, re-coating process, and support for upwards of 10 polymer materials, produces highly reliable and repeatable parts.
“It's the workhorse of our product portfolio—one of the most widely used polymer machines we offer primarily due to the fine detail resolution and high accuracy," said John Pendleton, area sales manager at EOS North America. “That combination is really ideal when you're developing products and moving into production with 3D printing because it provides the highest quality part right out of the machine."
Verena decided to take it for a production test drive. After a slight handle redesign to add ribs and thicken the walls for added stability, Verena was ready to move ahead with 3D printing for production, commissioning mHUB's FORMIGA P 110 manufacturing services. “We were able to get discounted services through mHUB, which is great because the FORMIGA P 110 is typically a pretty expensive system," Infanger noted. “The printer delivers fairly high-resolution drafts and angles without having to have supports."
The mHUB collaboration also gave Verena access to 3Degrees' TRACE data management and traceability software. Verena is an FDA-certified entity, so the ability to have lot-level traceability was critical for staying in compliance.
“Even the biggest organizations don't have a good way of organizing information and data," said Mike Vasquez, founder and CEO of 3Degrees and a member of mHUB, adding that most firms do the job through paper-based processes or spreadsheets. “As you go into the more heavily regulated industries like aerospace and medical, you run into the challenge of qualification—how do you ensure that parts are produced in a way that is safe and repeatable? Our software lets people populate the fields as they produce the parts so they have the full story at the end."
Thanks to the collaboration through mHUB, Verena was able to produce the portable X-ray handle faster and for less upfront cost than through traditional manufacturing methods. The FORMIGA P 110's ability to print 16 to 18 parts during a single build over a period of 24 hours means the low-volume runs are more cost effective, according to Infanger.
“With additive manufacturing as the digital production process, [Verena] could go directly from CAD to part without having to pay for production tooling and without dealing with the long lead time associated with getting the tooling made," EOS' Pendleton said.
Verena is exploring how to deliver similar 3D printed production services through mHUB for its other clients. Having direct access not only to production-grade tools and services, but to knowledge experts who can provide guidance and support during every phase of the product development and manufacturing lifecycle is what makes mHUB a standout and an invaluable resource to smaller companies looking to make their mark.
„Startups and individuals normally do not have access to the advanced fabrication methods or engineering talent that ensure a successful project without a significant amount of capital ... mHUB helps to close the resource gap for those early stage companies.“
John Welin, Prototyping Shop Manager, mHUB
Verena Solutions, based in Chicago, is a contract design/manufacturing services company that specializes in dental and medical markets. The company works with clients to create novel, interesting products that solve real-world problems.
EOS of North America