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3D Printing Boosts Creativity, Problem Solving at Small Medical Startup Firm

Ilene Wolff
By Ilene Wolff Contributing Editor, SME Media

Alex Berry and his team at Sutrue Ltd. (Colchester, England) exploited the benefits of 3D printing prototypes when developing two new automated suturing devices. They also coined a phrase to describe their prototyping technique.

“We’ve taken a ‘create, print, test, tweak, reprint’ approach to solving the problem of creating our automated suturing devices and we’ve called it ‘multi-typing,’” Berry explained via email.

Multi-typing at Sutrue is the ability to loosely design the same component three or four different ways, print them within a few hours, and test and learn from each prototype. To create its suturing mechanism, Sutrue said it produced 38 different prototypes and designed and tested over 1500 parts. “This approach has been instrumental in allowing a small start-up company likes ours to maximize our output in terms of creativity and problem solving,” Berry said.

Sutrue introduced its handheld and endoscopic/robotic suturing devices earlier this year at a press event at the Design Museum in London, where the devices were displayed as part of an exhibit. The demo devices were 3D printed, with the exception of a spring plate. Plastic parts were made on a Formlabs Form 2, and metal components on a GE Additive Mlab cusing R printer.

Metal parts, like these gears and rollers, for Sutrue Ltd.’s automated suturing devices were printed on a GE Additive Mlab cusing R printer. Image courtesy Sutrue Ltd.

The next steps will be to test the devices in animals, then in people, with the goal of gaining clearance for use in humans. Berry said he hopes the devices will be cost-neutral compared with suturing by hand, while producing better results.

The technique for producing medical stitches has been the same since the times of Ancient Egypt, and Sutrue is first with a successful update, according to press materials. For patients, particularly those undergoing cosmetic surgery, the devices are meant to help reduce tissue damage and produce better aesthetic results.

“The robotic version of the device holds another hugely important benefit: the reduction in number of open operations means that patients’ recovery time is shorter,” Berry said. “In addition, performing suturing more efficiently means that more surgeries can be carried out, reducing waiting times.” The handheld device is also meant to make suturing more precise and accurate for medical professionals, including those new to stitching up wounds and incisions, and to reduce or eliminate accidental needle sticks.

Needle sticks are “sharps”-related injuries, which also include cuts from a scalpel or other sharp object. The consequences of a needle stick may be grave if the instrument has blood on it from a patient infected with a serious disease.

Other applications may include field hospitals, veterinary, dentistry, manufacturing, textiles and extreme environments, like space.

Berry and Sutrue were featured in 2015 in an SME blog on developments in 3D printing software that included Formlabs’ supports, which eliminate a dense “forest” of scaffolding to support a piece during stereolithography printing in favor of thin upright scaffolds bolstered by a lacy network of “branches.”

Although trained in architectural design, Berry was inspired to start Sutrue while watching a TV program about robotic surgery. Convinced there had to be a better way, he sketched an initial idea in 2008. “It’s funny the direction that life can take you in sometimes,” he said.

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