“The tool we developed combines the two existing tools into a single unit,” says design engineer Richard Franks. “As the surgeon squeezes two handle pieces together, the ratchet tightens the screws.” The engineers produced a working polycarbonate ratchet strong enough to withstand testing on stainless steel set-screws and durable enough to survive an autoclave. In addition, says senior engineering manager Troy McDonald, “Surgeons are really rough on these prototypes while trying them out, so we have got to have tough material.FDM gave us the strength and durability we needed.” Medical technologists advancing surgical techniques appreciate the impact of FDM technology, according to McDonald.
“FDM turned out to be an important tool for us,” he says. “The benefits of functional prototypes extend to communication too,” he says, “Being able to use the rapid prototypes has really cut down on miscommunication.” After sending the counter-torque ratchet out to three hospitals, Sofamor Danek learned that the tool design could be improved by rotating its handle 90 degrees — information it might not have learned without working prototypes.