Mayo Clinic has a long history of engineering and making its own tools and devices, but a new printer will catapult in-house manufacturing to a shiny, new level.

Construction is underway in the downtown Baldwin Building to create space for the Mayo Clinic division of Engineering Additive Manufacturing facility. The core of that facility will be a 3D printer or additive manufacturing device that will use "medical-grade, implant-grade titanium" to produce devices, tools and more. Someday, it could even be used to manufacture patient implants.

"It's a big deal. To my knowledge, Mayo Clinic is the only hospital not connected to an university engineering department installing a 3D metal printer," said Laralyn McDaniel of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. "It's a considerable leap, particularly within hospital setting."

Once the EOS M 290 printer is installed in the 1,600-square-foot in the Additive Manufacturing facility, it will enable Mayo Clinic in-house engineers to work with physicians and researchers to produce prototype parts for new medical devices and "patient-specific" custom medical solutions, explained Sean McEligot, the director of the division.

However, it won't be used directly for commercial purposes.

"We're here to serve Mayo patients," he said.

3D Printing at Mayo Clinic

Different prototypes created by 3D printers at Mayo Clinic Division of Engineering and Technology Services on display Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, in downtown Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

That's a mission that the Mayo Clinic's engineers and in-house machine shop has been following, going back to original instrument making in 1914.

However, this printer, the size of a industrial freezer, opens the door to a new world of projects for the department.

Medical centers around the world have been embracing 3D printing during the past two decades. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers estimates that 3D printing has directly impacted more than 1 million patients. 

"This has been going on a lot longer than people realize," said McDaniel.

That number is expected to rapidly grow as more more medical institutions embrace using printers, like the one on its way to Mayo Clinic.

The society, in its 2018 annual report, estimated that the total value of additive manufacturing machines, materials, software, and services for medical applications will reach $2.2 billion by 2024.

It was creating anatomical models of conjoined twins in 2006 that launched Mayo Clinic's use of 3D printing, explained McEligot.

Since then, more and more projects have used the process, from creating device prototypes to magazine racks.

While the new printer will have the capability to create custom pieces like shoulder joints or replacement jawbones, that level of use will not happen for quite a while.

3D Printing at Mayo Clinic

A cranial plate prototype is made using UV cured polymer on a 3D printer Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, at the Mayo Clinic Division of Engineering and Technology Services in downtown Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

"A lot of institutional reviews will be needed before we can create actual implants," said McEligot. "We're working closely with the FDA as they develop new rules. This is a whole new area."

The construction project to build out the new printing facility in the Baldwin Building is estimated at $750,000. A printer like the one Mayo Clinic ordered typically sells for $700,000 to $750,000, so the financial investment is significant. 

To help Mayo Clinic with that, the Grainger Foundation of Lake Forest, Ill., provided "a generous grant" to cover the cost of the titanium 3D printer, according to Mayo Clinic officials.

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