An interview by Lauralyn McDaniel with Sam Onukuri, Head and Senior Fellow, Additive Manufacturing at Johnson & Johnson
With revenues of $94 billion in 2021, Johnson & Johnson is one of the world’s most well-known healthcare companies. It is no surprise, then, that the company has invested heavily across the years in medical 3D printing technologies to research and develop new products and solutions.
In this interview, Sam Onukuri, Head and Senior Fellow, Additive Manufacturing at Johnson & Johnson, discusses the company’s research into medical 3D printing for medical devices, pharmaceuticals, bioprinting, and more.
He points out 4 key value drivers for using additive manufacturing in healthcare. These are: design flexibility, reductions in cost, the portability of the technology, and sustainability and green technology in manufacturing.
“We can reinvent how we can design products using this technology. And it brings up so much freedom for us to design very unique structures, unique products that can deliver value for patients and customers.” Says Onukuri.
For a company like Johnson & Johnson, which is made up of a wide variety of different businesses, Onukuri explains the AM center’s approach.
“Initially we work very closely with the segments for the business planning process and strategic process and making sure that each of the businesses have their own unmet needs and the customers they are meeting. And we really work with the businesses to figure out what are the unmet needs. How does this technology help?” Says Onukuri.
He explains that instead of just pushing AM technology onto groups, that they work with them to deliver real solutions and applications, something that really “helps the end customer and the patient every day.”
Metal additive manufacturing features often in the orthopedic device development process, but 3D tissue fabrication is also generating excitement and interest in its possibilities. Onukura explains that his lab has firstly targeted building constructs which can be added into tissue, into a damaged area of the body as treatments. Testing of, say, new compounds using bioprinted material can improve knowledge of how the compound disperses, and deliver much more realistic simulation and testing. The next area they are pushing towards is bioprinting of full organs.
“The way we are looking at bioprinting is threefold. Again, looking at the customer base, we have a medical device customers, we have consumer customers and also the pharmaceutical side. So the journey right now is to really build the data, the clinical outcomes and the data behind collecting the data around the feasibility. it’s a long journey, but definitely I think we have made a lot of progress.” Says Onukuri.
The company has already released devices and solutions that utilize 3D printing including spine solutions that use PEEK and Titanium materials.
Another recent product release by Johnson & Johnson, the TruMatch Graft Cage, seeks to improve treatment of catastrophic bone injuries that would often result in amputation. The cage is an implant that can be custom 3D printed within 10 days to match a patient’s anatomy, made of a material that can be absorbed by the body, enabling support for bone grafts and a structure that actual bone can grow onto.
“It’s a personalized product, fits the defect and also really accelerates the healing and bring either new bone and the densification around that and create the healing process. So it’s been a very exciting, very unique application of 3D printing, how it brings the value in it.” Says Onukuri.
When asked what’s next in medical 3D printing, Onukuri will give no specifics but the very much undeveloped space of 3D printing with robotics in a medical setting excites him.
“I think one of the thing is we need to start thinking about this technology as a platform in the broader ecosystem of a digital journey. I think combining this technology with the digital ecosystem, whether it’s a robotics, or other type of areas, this needs to become part of the bigger ecosystem. Integrating this with other emerging areas, like robotics and the digital technologies that additively manufacture, 3D printing can become very, very powerful.”
Find out more about medical applications of 3D printing and meet Sam Onukuri at the upcoming AM Medical Summit, November 1-3, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.