The use of 3D printing is gaining success in many medical fields such as surgery. Koln 3D, a Hong Kong-based tech firm, has been deploying 3D printing to provide solutions that are customized to the patient’s anatomy and the surgeon’s specific needs. The four-year-old startup has been designated by the Hong Kong Hospital Authority as an official medical device supplier of talus or ankle bone.
Koln 3D founder and chief executive Edmond Yau and chief technology officer Sibyl Mak sat down recently with the Hong Kong Economic Journal to explain the company’s vision on the application of 3D printing in medical services such as orthopedics.
HKEJ: Why did you decide to focus on medical services?
Yau: All can be traced back to 2015, when we were approached by a local hospital, asking if our 3D metal printing machine can produce a metal footbone for a patient, who lost his ankle bone in a traffic accident.
For this kind of injury, surgeons would in general nail two screws to the patient’s foot, and the patient will not be able to even move his foot afterwards. But at the time, the surgeon would like to explore the possibility of creating a metal footbone for the patient with the help of 3D printing technology.
The case inspired our team to the growing trend of application of 3D printing in medical services, and we started to research and develop the technology to deliver medical-grade products and solutions.
HKEJ: We understand that there is an absence of medical cases for reference in developing the technology. Is this a key challenge for your firm?
Yau: Briefly speaking, for a medical-grade metal ankle bone, there are six contact surfaces, and each of them must be smooth, with precise dimensions. As we started conducting research on the technology, initially we could not obtain sufficient 3D images and relevant information for producing a metal ankle bone. It took us about two months working closely with doctors and surgeons before we delivered our product for the first implantation surgery using an artificial metal ankle bone in Hong Kong.
Mak: 3D printing technology is the core of our business, and the key is that our products are all customized in high precision to peculiar patient anatomy and the surgeon’s specific need. In order to achieve that, we would set up an online communication channel with the doctors and surgeons in each case, soliciting their professional opinions, to streamline the design and production process.
Say, for a patient who needs to be implanted with a surgical stent, we have to come up with a production plan according to the urgency of the injury. As the patient received urgent surgery, we would tailor the product during his or her rehabilitation period.
In another example, for a patient who suffers from long-term strain, we would request the hospital to provide the results from the Computed Tomography (CT) scan, which we can design the product according to the patient’s physical characteristics.
HKEJ: Moving forward, do you have plans to enter other markets beyond Hong Kong?
Yau: Hong Kong is well-known internationally for its medical technology. Last year, there were patients in Thailand who broke their bones in accidents. And we were referred by professors at the University of Hong Kong to the local doctors. Later, we delivered our product to the local hospital, and finally, the patient has recovered well.
Those cases help us promote our 3D printing technology to Thailand, as well as other Southeast Asian countries. In addition, we participated in industry conferences in Zhuhai and Shenzhen this year to promote our technology to the medical service industry in mainland China.
HKEJ: What about other cases involving the use of 3D printing technology? Can your firm’s technology be applied to areas other than medical services?
Mak: At present, there is a certain demand for 3D metal printing technology in medical services such as orthopedics, dentistry, oral and maxillofacial surgery, plastic surgery, and even cardiology and brain surgery. In addition to orthopedics, our team has recently provided customized products for oral and maxillofacial surgery, and ophthalmic surgery.
In addition, there is an educational purpose. We were invited to schools to promote 3D metal printing technology. And we are also exploring the potential of applying the technology to produce customized jewelry.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 23
Translation by Ben Ng
[Chinese version 中文版]
– Contact us at [email protected]