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axial3D is a healthcare software and services company based in Belfast that creates 3D printed anatomical models from patient CT scans and MRIs. The highly detailed models are used by clinicians and surgeons for review, simulation and rehearsal in a consequence-free environment. They are also a valuable tool for communicating with patients and their families, such as when obtaining consent or explaining procedures and outcomes.

This accurate and detailed form of 3D modelling reduces risk by enabling clinicians to plan surgery in advance, collaborate with others and reduce the length of time spent in surgery. The models also reveal what cannot be seen through 2D imagery alone, which can help surgeons to plan for and deal with secondary issues in advance, and reduce revision surgeries.

Digital Catapult’s Machine Intelligence Garage has helped axial3D to accelerate their machine learning, increase production and grow into new and international markets, including the USA.

Extending capability to deliver the vision

The anatomical models created by axial3D’s trained engineers are either printed and couriered to the clinician (saving the hospital any need to have their own 3D printing facilities), or sent as files for printing at the hospital. However, the rate at which this could be achieved was restricted by the speed at which machine learning and algorithm production was taking place.

To achieve its vision of 3D printing being widely adopted and used as standard practice when determining patient pathways, axial3D would need to significantly upscale its technical and production capability. axial3D would also need to find ways to extend its reach, and build relationships that would support and grow its business in the UK and beyond.

Generating more computing power, connections and confidence

By joining Digital Catapult’s Machine Intelligence Garage in 2018, axial3D’s team were able to take advantage of the enormous computing power and machine learning capability available. This meant that it could markedly increase the rate at which its modelling algorithms were being created and new models trained.

Digital Catapult connected axial3D with Google engineers, who provided valuable support with data handling and anonymisation, and VR experts, to extend axial3D’s knowledge of working with mixed reality. This accelerated learning from subject matter experts, and through the experiences of peers within their cohort, has proven to be invaluable.

Digital Catapult also put axial3D in touch with UK and export contacts, facilitating introductions and showcasing their capabilities with a large number of important connections, including Northern Ireland’s Department of Trade and Industry.

Building an award-winning business to fulfil a global vision

axial3D’s services are now becoming more well known, enabling it to extend beyond orthopaedics into new medical specialities, such as neurology, cardiology and spinal. Its global profile has also increased. In March 2019, Tim Brown, Consultant Transplant Surgeon at Belfast City Hospital, took the stage at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas, where he shared how he used their printing technology to successfully aid a complex and life-changing kidney transplant on a young mother.

Understandably, there has been a huge level of interest in the USA, where the company has now engaged partners to print patient models for clinicians in North America. And in the UK, some hospitals, such as the Royal London and the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, have now opted for axial3D to place printers on-site for them. These can be triggered remotely when a model needs to be printed.

As well as delivering the obvious clinical benefits and improvements in patient care and outcomes, axial3D’s services are also helping hospitals to reduce costs. For example, it worked with Royal Victoria Hospital to set up and manage an on-site 3D printing lab. In the first six months alone, the hospital saved £100,000 by freeing up almost 40 hours of theatre time.

“Digital Catapult’s Machine Intelligence Garage has scaled up the rate at which our research was progressing, enabling us to iterate new models much more quickly.

Their infectious enthusiasm for our ambitions has pushed us out of our comfort zone and opened new doors for us.” – Niall Haslam, Chief Technology Officer, axial3D

Significant growth in the UK and USA

Extending use into additional medical specialities