Leading the Way in 3D Printing

Additive Manufacturing (AM), better known as 3D printing, has undergone impressive growth for some time now and one of the leading centres in AM development is the Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (CRPM) at the Central University of Technology, Free State (CUT). The CRPM was established in 1997 as a centre for commercial work and research and has, since then, more than delivered on its remit.

The vital role that AM has to play in medical product development has already become clear when CUT first developed mandible implants in 2013 to assist surgeons to plan complicated surgery down to the finest detail. This shortened the operating time considerably, which reduced the chances of complications due to a prolonged operation such as infections or excessive blood loss. Professor Cules van Heever, CUT’s Extraordinary Professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Information System and Head of Maxillofacial Periodontics Unit based in Bloemfontein, and the team from CRPM, played a vital role in the reconstructive surgery through the use of Additive Manufacturing AM technology. , also known as 3D printing.  Not only did this procedure change the way in which the medical community views 3D printing, but it also costs much less than traditional jaw implant surgery.

3D Printing

The centre has an impressive array of state-of-the-art machinery and equipment that allow users to print with more than one material at a time.

Through this technology, the CRPM’s capabilities in the design and manufacturing of patient-specific implants have undergone significant strides and its goal is to expand its wealth of knowledge and research while forming deeper alliances with partners within business and industry, government, medical professionals, as well as private and public hospitals.

The university is proudly taking a lead in innovations that is changing the face of medical science in Africa.  From 2015 to date, about 65 patients were assisted through the support of state and private hospitals, the expertise of CRPM and funding from partners such as Fuchs Foundation.  Some of these medical devices were first of their kinds in the country; making CUT to stand at the forefront of innovation in this field.

In 2015 CUT received an award under the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) through the Department of Science and Technology (DST) as testament to the commitment that CRPM has to innovation in the AM field.  The SARChi’s are highly competitive initiatives which are tenable at universities and agencies that are deemed leaders in their respective fields of expertise.  This achievement has given CUT a fundamental role in the new industrial revolution; especially within the medical space where it has proven to have huge potential to transform ordinary people’s lives.

The long and short term benefits to both the medical profession and the AM environment are undeniable. The CRPM can take the information from consortia and use it to focus on the technical development of products. Add to this the long list of strategic partnerships, superb innovations and Fuchs Foundation and the SARChI, the CRPM is set to revolutionise Additive Manufacturing in South Africa.


Written by: Daniel Maritz: Director – Communications and Marketing: Central University of Technology, Freestate