A local company that specializes in developing moldable polymers derived from wood is working toward the launch of a product designed specifically for 3-D printers that could, in part, replace the two most common printing filaments on the market today.
Robert Joyce, founder and co-owner of Toledo-based FibreTuff Medical Biopolymers, has worked with cellulose-based composites for more than a decade. Over the last several years, a good portion of his focus has been on finding a way to get into the 3-D printing game.
“The market is growing exponentially,” he said. “It’s a huge market, and I think we have a great potential to get into areas where they don’t have a solution at this point in time.”
The potential for 3-D printing is nearly limitless. And as costs have gone down, the number of applications has grown significantly. Now one of the biggest questions isn’t about what 3-D printing can do, but rather what materials are best for specific applications.
In the case of FibreTuff, Mr. Joyce is looking specifically at the medical sector.
“We’ve had some preliminary testing at [the University of Toledo] that didn’t show any toxicity and actually didn’t prohibit cell growth, so it performed well,” he said.
Mr. Joyce has secured five patents for the product, with three other patents pending.
The material, he argues, is more sustainable than other polymers that are being used, while being lightweight, nonabsorbent, and importantly is odorless when being printed.
The raw material is made at a Midwest at compounding laboratory. The pellets are then sent to a company in Cleveland that turns them into a printable filament.
After a series of proof-of-concept development and tests, the company is nearing commercial launch of its filament.
Mr. Joyce hopes that will happen within two to three months.
FibreTuff is working with Youngstown-based printer manufacturer JuggerBot 3D to promote the product. The companies recently did a demonstration at Alternative Physical Therapy in Toledo.
The market for 3-D printed materials within the medical industry is growing rapidly. A 2015 report compiled by Transparency Market Research projected the industry to grow from $355 million in 2012 to $966 billion by 2019.
There are several applications in use for things such as surgical guides, implants, and prostheses.
Last year, the federal Food and Drug Administration even approved a 3-D printed pill.
Mr. Joyce said FibreTuff will start with less intrusive applications, such as custom shoe lifts, though he’s hopeful his company can move toward making implantable items in the near term.
“We’re driving toward that probably in the next year. We also have some work here locally that will help us develop some of those materials and or devices,” he said.
Although the venture has been self-funded to this point, Mr. Joyce expects to begin pursuing grant funding and said they’re in discussions with a medical company in Toledo to potentially help with development.