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- Tuesday, 30 July, 2019

PTE's 3D Printing and Visualization Center Launches New Exploratory Mission

The 3D Printing and Visualization Center of the University of Pécs is an unabashedly unique institution of its kind throughout the entirety of the country. The institute’s implementation of state-of-the-art 3D printing techniques throughout various areas of research, development and innovation, yet also focuses upon practical development and the effective marketing of its product line. In association with the PTE's "Entrepreneurial University" vision, the center also nurtures professional relationships among various investor groups. PTE3D Center now has achieved the point in which it is re-positioning itself on the basis of past experiences, paving the next logical step ahead. We recently discussed the various changes including new projects which will soon undergo their preliminary phases, under the guidance of the institution's newly appointed Innovation Manager, Dr. Peter Maróti.

The primary mission regarding the 3D Printing and Technology Center is now aligned with the Senior Leadership’s recent decision to chisel a new “umbrella organization” in support of research and development. Strategically, the newly organized entity will effectively unify university faculties, disciplines and several major projects, professionally and economically. In consideration of the "core" regarding the Center’s vision, it will continue to be a flagship representative of superbly advanced technologies and will position itself as a global equal, a common denominator, willing and able to immediately network among other 3D Print Technology entities throughout the world. In consideration of these changes, the leadership of the 3D Printing and Technology Center genuinely envision an entity in which it is capable in  concentrating deeper into relevant areas aligned with a successful future. Addtionally, a stretch goal is currently undergoing discussion in which increased levels of professional support regarding the PTE's R, D & I activities are accompanied with an increase in expertise and response time.

“In retrospect, the essential idea in support of creating the PTE3D project dates back to 2015,” remarked Dr. Péter Maróti. “Dr. József Bódis, the former Rector of the University of Pécs, and currently the State Secretary for Education, was aiming for a multidisciplinary research center from the onset, strategically combing research teams working at various faculties of the university using 3D technologies as the common denominator. The Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Economics, the Faculty of Engineering and Informatics, the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Natural Sciences all were active and willing participants in the effective development of the PTE3D concept. Soon thereafter, the Rector commissioned Dr. Miklós Nyitrai, now the current Dean of the PTE Faculty of Medicine, as the Director of the Research Center.

“We successfully applied to the National Office for Research and Innovation, which supported the concept including funding valued at more than 1.8 billion forints. Last March, we hosted a Grand Opening of the independently owned PTE3D project's 600 square meter headquarters located in the Faculty of Technology and Information Technology,” adds Dr. Maroti.

Today, the 3D Center employs a variety of 3D printing techniques. One is the well-known, FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication), a process which extracts layers of plastic from thermoplastic polymer fibers to make the 3D form. In consideration of these small, economically-priced printers, the 3D Center now can manufacture inexpensive, fast, custom-made plastic objects. The PTE3D Center also uses selective laser sintering (SLS) as a dependable form of technology. Remarkably, both these two printing techniques are frequently used in the research center, for example, in the development of upper limb prostheses. In addition, there are several industrial-scale machines based on photopolymer printing techniques. “They illuminate liquid resin with light or laser, layer by layer. The extremely fine resolution, up to 16 micrometers, can be achieved using this method. This approach is ideally suitable in the manufacturing of oral surgery design templates, or orthodontic devices,” emphasizes Dr. Maróti.

Additionally, Dr. Maroti describes, how in the last three years, a plethora of ideas have been floated among staff, specifically, what areas have yet not been probed in which 3D printing might offer immense benefits. Several of the architects aligned to the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology are in healthy collaboration with their colleagues of the Fine Arts Faculty regarding the construction of uniquely designed homes facilitating in the use of concrete printing. 

Recently, the PTE3D Center was besieged by an uptick in a wide range of external orders, originating from all corners of the country, in which the inquiries ranged from individuals to industrial complexes. Dr. Maroti continues, “There was an individual who desired to print a custom-designed vase, another individual was craving for a 3D printed element in support of his vacuum cleaner, and one of our faculties awarded the TDK winning students with owl figures manufactured using 3D print technology. Additionally, there were also industrial representatives who forwarded a request for specialized parts desperately needed for massive plant production.” 

Since the 3D Print and Vision Center is aligned as a genuine academic research center, it is prohibited from accruing a profit. However, in consideration of external orders, it is lawful to cover the operational costs. Lastly, the staff admittedly benefits from the overall experience. 

“Distinctly, this is an important goal in support of the team and we want to maintain our openness and flexibility, yet it is cumbersome to focus on our mission and ensure a timely response regarding incoming orders, all the while simultaneously designing and implementing various tools in response to the various medical technological projects assigned to the center.” 

“Specifically, this is primarily the reason we inevitably determined it was in the best interests of all participating faculties to restructure the fundamental activities and re-position the center’s directive,” states Dr. Maroti.

“This is an excellent opportunity regarding growth, and affords staff to streamline production and maintain a high level of quality assurance, all of which was formerly emphasized at the Biomedical Engineering Center. The 3D Center is expected to remain an important part of the new organization, yet, of course, based on agreements with other collaborative research teams and research projects, we can delineate our competencies and operational goals far more precisely than before. We intend to primarily focus on our own medical technological developments, and if once the center has the additional capacity in support of addtional orders, naturally, we will be happy to oblige,” summarizes Dr. Péter Maróti.

Within the new umbrella organization, based on past experiences, six new workgroups are being created and 3D printing is an integral link to all the teams. To cite an example, the Medical Material Technology Research Group examines the materials used in 3D printing, including the characteristics and behavior of polymers and composites. They also experiment with custom-developed materials. Specifically, how does one alter the structure and characteristics of thermoplastic plastics by adding calcium carbonate or carbon concentrates? 

However, the study regarding different silicones is also part of the Medical Material Technology Research Group’s basic research, and their application is already closely linked to another workgroup, namely the Health Simulations Workgroup. This area already has an astonishingly lengthy, reputable history within the University of Pécs, of which, the MediSkillsLab Simulation Education Center has been successfully operating since 2015 within the Faculty of Medicine. It is here, for example, in which 3D printing is used to replace the worn-out functionality regarding the numerous ALS (Advanced Life Support) medical mannequins, which are considered cutting-edge technology throughout Europe and obviously immensely beneficial in graduate and postgraduate training. Today, medical students practice laryngeal pruning on an intensely realistic, artificial laryngeal or practice medical procedures and operations on the center’s very own self-developed bleeding artificial skin or on a realistic artificial arm. 

Strikingly, they are also using artificial brain chambers, bones, and tools in support of practicing wound healing. 3D printing is also used for routine maintenance regarding the affectionately referred to, “high loyalty simulators.” These are human body imitation models loaded with a robust, serious software background. They perfectly simulate various life functions and including subtle, human-like disturbances, and even respond to medical interventions. Many injections of venous injections and cardiac arrhythmias can be practiced using these fascinating human simulators.

Today, dedicated workgroups are heavily involved in the development of healthcare software solutions and bio-printing. The latter is perhaps one of the most innovative areas regarding medical-technology, which serves in driving the imagination of science fiction fans. For example, various organoids are created, i.e., living tissue samples from living cells, artificially. In regards to these artifically developed living tissues, researchers study the underlying causes of diseases and the mechanism of action associated with various pharmaceuticals at the molecular level. In the Bioprinting Research Center at Pécs, for example, staff print lung tissue and examine the molecular background aligned with lung cancer, inflammatory and fibrotic diseases and carries out related drug experiments.

The Neurorehabilitation workgroup implements 3D printing primarily to make various prostheses. Dr. Maróti Péter emphasizes how staff primarily focuses upon the creation of self-developed upper limb prostheses. These developments are unique on the Hungarian market and it is a testament of the Neurorehabilitation’s ingenuity. 

“Engineers, IT professionals and medical doctors are now comprehensively working together in this area. After fitting the upper limb prosthesis to the patient, the electrical signals regarding the muscle function are detected by electrodes, thus, they can execute the motion command. A 3D printed prosthesis can be far more accurately customized to the individual needs of the client, and can be manufactured much faster and more cost-effectively than when compared to conventionally manufactured artificial limbs. We are still in the production phase of the prototype, however, we are currently strategizing product development with a serious investor group. Theoretically, we need one and a half or two years to make this as an actual medical product available to clients,” Dr. Maroti stated.

Lastly, a dedicated working group will combine their professional efforts towards medical robotics, remote diagnostics and remote surgical intervention. The astonishing development of medical robotics effectively demonstrates, it is now entirely possible to carry out operations from afar using remote control and internet technology.

The emerging "super-research center" will attempt to maximize the potential linking regarding the different ways in approach and thinking throughout a wide variety of disciplines, thereby creating real synergies. In consideration of the interdisciplinary approach witnessed in the last century, and as a result, now offers a new impetus to the previously stagnating disciplines, it is possible to imagine what new approaches and innovative solutions can by accessed by linking research and innovation topics which are now soaring.

Dr. Peter Maroti emphasizes how 3D printing alone is one of the fastest growing innovative areas in the world including new printing materials, processes and applications rapidly emerging on nearly a daily basis. Connecting this development curve to other, equally innovative or "high-tech" projects, promises improvement, efficiency and speed regarding these projects. 

“Today, there are several world-class success stories regarding several topics, such as the use of new medical simulation techniques or the manufacturing of prostheses, which can bring Hungary to the forefront of 3D printing,” forecasts Dr. Maroti.

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