Anita Dr. Helbig GmbH reduces 50% of the costs by 3D printing casting cores for breast epitheses

A new industry trend takes form in the 3D printing arena: projects, in particular R&D oriented ones, that were once outsourced are now being taken on internally. Take the Anita Dr. Helbig GmbH in Brannenburg, manufacturer of bodices, swimwear and breast prostheses. Here they use an X400 3D printer by German RepRap to produce moulds for berast protheses while reducing the costs by about 50%.

According to a survey of 624 companies by Tech Pro analysts this places the Anita Dr. Helbig GmbH in the early adopters group of businesses that actively use 3D printers. Here, product development not only covers the actual textiles but the tools needed to shape the products as required.

The junior director of the company had silicone prostheses in mind, the so-called epithesises. “The moulds have been changing all the time and we need tools for 10 different types in 100 different sizes”, says Georg Weber-Unger junior.

The X400 3D printer has revolutionised the tool making for these prostheses. Traditionally a wooden template was used to create a fibre-glass prototype. This was then mirrored in a manual process which takes 14 days to create an aluminium mould to pour the silicone into. “The two sides were never absolutely identical”, the managing director recalls. Today the mould is created using CAD software which can instantly mirror and then print the form. To do that, the original aluminium mould is being 3D scanned, the images stitched together and then touched up within the software. The printer software called “Slicer” converts the CAD files into the G-code format readable by the 3D printer. Within a few hours the printer creates a positive copy of the tool.

At the Anita Dr. Helbig GmbH they only print with PLA (polylactic acid). PLA, is a biodegradable thermoplastic polyester with a high tensile strength. The PLA model is casted with sand and a foundry turns the resulting casting mould into the new aluminium tool. That way no more milling is required. As Weber-Unger points out: “The new process saves us about 50% of the development costs.”