3D printing an ultrasound simulator
Updated: May 8, 2021
At Deepscope we want to make high-quality ultrasound simulation accessible anywhere in the world. We received a lot of feedback that students wanted to feel the sensation of holding a probe in their hands, whilst scanning over the surface of the body.
As we were originally a software-only company, the idea of creating hardware was an interesting challenge. We started by experimenting with prototypes and discussing with clinicians at leading Universities from Johns Hopkins to UCL. Important consideration for the 3D printed probe were - the probe marker and the size of the augmented reality components we require for tracking the position in space inside the ultrasound simulator.
Once we had basic prototypes, the obvious solution was 3D printing, which is an easy way to produce prototypes. We bought an Ender 3 Pro 3D printer from Creality - https://creality3d.shop/ - which is an excellent entry-level 3D printer with impressive features (we don't receive any benefit from recommending them).
The next important part of 3D printing an ultrasound simulator is to create 3D design files for the ultrasound probe and then convert those into files that the 3D printer can read. These files take into account the features of your particular 3D printer, for example the temperature it can operate at.
Once we created these design files, it was time to start printing:
Our first ultrasound probe took roughly 4 hours to 3D print. After several rounds of iteration and optimisation we reduced the time to 2hrs, anything more than that and the quality started to diminish.
Finally, after receiving some larger orders, we found a way to batch the ultrasound probes together so we could print 9 at a time overnight!
In summary, 3D printing has offered a low cost way to prototype a new form of ultrasound simulator, even when your main product is software. We're actually constantly prototyping to increase the realism of our ultrasound probes and creating a virtual needle for vascular access simulation.