Whether you are a fan of folding paper or life-saving medical procedures, you are going to love the work that Brigham Young University is doing with small-scale surgical devices. BYU mechanical engineering professors Larry Howell and Spencer Magleby have pioneered a new generation of tools that can manufacture surgery less invasive and they’ve relied on 3D printing and origami to do it.

3D printed surgical device origami brigham young

Tools like the da Vinci robot of Intuitive Surgical are turn it intod to reduce the dimensions of an incision necessary to perform a medical procedure. And who wants a big clunky machine tinkering inside of your body? But the BYU engineers aren’t satisfied with in fact the dimensions of those tools, major them to turn it into devices so small that the incisions they cause can heal by themselves, without stitches. Prof. Howell tells BYU news, “The whole concept is to manufacture smaller and smaller incisions. To that end, we are creating devices that can be inserted into a small incision and and so deployed inside the body to carry out a specific surgical function.”

3D printed origami surgical device byu

In order to turn it into such small tools, the BYU team had to get rid of the clunky pin joints and other parts that allow surgical devices to move. Instead, they’re via the deflection seen in origami to cause the instruments to move. Similar to an origami swan, as one side of the object is tugged, the other side contracts, particularly useful for small clamps and claws. For instance, with this technique, the team was able-bodied to fabricate a set of robotically-controlled forceps that can be inserted into an incision just 3 mm in dimensions, of the thickness of two pennies stacked on top of every other.

3D printed surgical device BYU

Magelby says that this technique can inspire a whole new series of medical tools, “These small instruments can allow for a whole new range of surgeries to be performed—hopefully one day manipulating things as small as nerves. The origami-inspired thoughts really assist us to see how to manufacture things smaller and smaller and to manufacture them easier and easier.” For that reason, Intuitive Surgical has begun licensing the BYU innovation themselves.

3D printed spinal discs brigham young

In addition to the work being licensed to Intuitive Surgical, the BYU researchers have created an in fact additional amazing device that in fact starts as a flat piece of material preceding growing to become two rounded surfaces that roll on every other. This item, dubbed the “D-Core”, is in fact mean to resemble the movement created by discs in the spine.

3D printed spinal device brigham young

The BYU team, that uses 3D printing both to prototype scale models of their tools and to create the end outcome, has not just applied their engineering wits to the medical field. NASA, too, has turned the BYU crew and the principals of origami to turn it into equipment launched into space. Just as medical devices require to be small to reduce recovery times, satellites require to take up as little cargo space as possible, Magleby says. “Those who create spacecraft want their products to be small and small in size for the reason space is at a premium on a spacecraft, but once you get in space, they want those same products to be sizeable, such as solar arrays or antennas,” Magleby said. “There’s a much like thought here: We’d like a thing to get really small to go through the incision, but once it’s inside, we’d like it to get much sizeabler.”

This space work can most likely alter as an increasing number of organizations, like Made In Space, explore 3D printing inside the vacuum of space itself, but anyone who’s gone under the knife can agree that they’d like those incisions to be as small as possible.

Michael Molitch-Hou

About The Author

Michael is Editor-In Chief of 3D Printing Industry and the founder of The Reality™ Institute, a service institute dedicated to determining what’s real and what’s not so that you don’t have to. He is a graduate of the MFA Critical Studies & Writing Program at CalArts, and a firm advocate of world peace. Michael already resides in San Pedro with his magical wife, Danielle.