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The design freedom afforded by additive manufacturing (AM) is now being leveraged across multiple applications, including many in the fields of imaging for personalised medicine. This study utilises a pellet-fed, multi-material AM machine as a route to fabricating new imaging phantoms, used for developing and refining algorithms for the detection of subtle soft tissue anomalies. Traditionally comprising homogeneous materials, higher-resolution scanning now allows for heterogeneous, multi-material phantoms. Polylactic acid (PLA), a thermoplastic urethane (TPU) and a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) were investigated as potential materials. Manufacturing accuracy and precision were assessed relative to the digital design file, whilst the potential to achieve structural heterogeneity was evaluated by quantifying infill density via micro-computed tomography. Hounsfield units (HU) were also captured via a clinical scanner. The PLA builds were consistently too small, by 0.2 - 0.3%. Conversely, TPE parts were consistently larger than the digital file, though by only 0.1%. The TPU components had negligible differences relative to the specified sizes. The accuracy and precision of material infill were inferior, with PLA exhibiting greater and lower densities relative to the digital file, across the 3 builds. Both TPU and TPE produced infills that were too dense. The PLA material produced repeatable HU values, with poorer precision across TPU and TPE. All HU values tended towards, and some exceeded, the reference value for water (0 HU) with increasing infill density. These data have demonstrated that pellet-fed AM can produce accurate and precise structures, with the potential to include multiple materials providing an opportunity for more realistic and advanced phantom designs. In doing so, this will enable clinical scientists to develop more sensitive applications aimed at detecting ever more subtle variations in tissue, confident that their calibration models reflect their intended designs.


Franck Lacan, Richard Johnston, Rhys Carrington, Emiliano Spezi, Peter Theobald. Towards using a multi-material, pellet-fed additive manufacturing platform to fabricate novel imaging phantoms. Journal of medical engineering & technology. 2023 Apr;47(3):189-196

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PMID: 37114619

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