BMW combines 3D printing & virtual reality to streamline vehicle design

Mar 29, 2017 | By Tess

German auto manufacturer BMW, no stranger to 3D printing technologies, has announced its intention to combine additive manufacturing and virtual reality to help streamline and reduce the costs of its design processes.

3D printing and virtual reality have been developing side by side for several years, with both technologies becoming more and more advanced and increasingly accessible. It is hardly a surprise then that their trajectories have become intertwined in numerous ways. Earlier today we wrote about one instance of this intersection, as tech company HTC released its new MakeVR tool, which allows HTC Vive users to craft and 3D model in a virtual environment.

Now, it seems BMW is seeking to explore the benefits of combining both technologies for its own design-related purposes. In designing and developing a new vehicle, BMW would traditionally have to manufacture one or several prototypes for each part—a time-consuming and costly process. With the advancement of 3D printing, however, this task was made significantly easier, as the company was able to additively manufacture one-off prototypes in a more time and cost efficient manner.

By adding virtual reality into the mix, the car manufacturer is hoping to streamline its design and prototyping process even more. That is, in combining VR tech with 3D printing, BMW is confident that it can simplify and speed up its auto design stage by cutting back on the number of parts that even need to be additively manufactured.

How is this going to work? Well, BMW is reportedly working on a VR program (in collaboration with Unreal Engine) that is capable of recreating a variety of different surface finishes and features that are integrated into BMW’s vehicles. Using the VR technology, the company plans to project the virtual images onto 3D printed parts to see how they will look when they are finished and built into the car. This will allow BMW’s designers to see any early flaws with a particular design, and allow them to create and adapt a new virtual design.

Additionally, BMW also intends to use virtual reality and 3D printing in tandem in order to increase the efficiency of inter-departmental communications. By using the two technologies together, BMW says it will be easier to convey design ideas and directions to different teams, and will provide a more user-friendly experience for its employees.

For over 25 years, BMW has been a strong proponent of additive manufacturing technologies, not only using it for its own manufacturing needs, but also investing in up-and-coming 3D printing companies, and collaborating with various organizations, including Team USA. As always, we are eager to see its continued use and advancement of the technology.

Posted in 3D Printing Application

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EchoPixel Announces True 3D Print Support, Combining Virtual Reality and 3D Model Printing to …

/ — MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA–(Marketwired – Feb 21, 2017) – EchoPixel today announced True 3D print support, a breakthrough set of software tools designed to assist physicians using models they create using their 3D printers Built on EchoPixel’s True 3D Viewer software, the workflows allow medical professionals to visualize and interact with patient specific anatomy that can be directly converted into 3D printed models. This allows professionals to create their models with greater quality and accuracy, and to “print right, the first time”.

EchoPixel’s existing True 3D Viewer software enables physicians to see and interact with medical images the way they would with real, physical objects. The system converts existing DICOM datasets into life-size virtual reality objects, allowing physicians to move, turn, dissect, and cut open virtual patient anatomy. The new software tools facilitate seamless transition to printing of 3D models, once a professional has determined the desired anatomy and orientation to print.

“We believe there’s a revolution happening in 3D medical modeling, and it’s just getting started,” said Ron Schilling, CEO of EchoPixel. “3D printing is a game changing technology, but it’s not yet accepted as a widely effective clinical tool, primarily due to the cost and time restrictions. EchoPixel’s Interactive Virtual Reality is a complementary technology that can enable truly effective 3D modeling for the first time. It has the potential to dramatically reduce time and cost investments.”

When supported by EchoPixel’s software tools, 3D modeling has numerous potential benefits across a range of medical applications. These may include:

  • Improved communication and collaboration among different members of the surgical team, including surgeons and other OR staff
  • Enhanced pre-operative planning and better interactive understanding of unique anatomy that can be used as a reference during surgery
  • Mirror-image modeling used for reconstruction templates
  • Practice on models for surgical residents resident work hours
  • Increased patient education

“We’re excited to establish 3D virtual viewing as part of our 3D program,” said Steve Muyskens, M.D., cardiologist at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. “Having this technology, in addition to 3D printing capabilities, allows Cook Children’s cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons to improve the planning of complex procedures and surgeries. We believe this approach will eventually lead to less time in the operating room and fewer complications.”

EchoPixel will be demonstrating its True 3D Viewer and its Print Support functionality in HP’s booth #1979 at HIMSS 2017. 

About EchoPixel
EchoPixel is building a new world of patient care with its groundbreaking medical visualization software. The company’s FDA-cleared True 3D Viewer uses existing medical image datasets to create virtual reality environments of patient-specific anatomy, allowing physicians to view and dissect images just as they would real, physical objects. The technology aims to make reading medical images more intuitive, help physicians reach diagnosis, and assist in surgical planning. Leading institutions, including the University of California, San Francisco, the Cleveland Clinic, the Lahey Clinic, and more are using True 3D in clinical and research applications. EchoPixel is a privately held, venture backed company located in Mountain View, CA.

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Virtual reality may soon help you meet your heart, knee, or unborn baby

You know that hologram of a live brain that had Pepper Potts so excited in Iron Man 2? We’re not there yet, but there was some stuff at a recent medical technology meet in the US that caused almost as much of a stir.

There was a robot-supported angiography system, VR 3D models of a foetus, and automated tools that let you 3D print anatomical models — in real time — based on a specific patient’s CT, MR or X-ray images.

These new tools, unveiled at the annual summit of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) that began on Sunday, are helping make surgery less invasive, helping treat anomalies and congenital disorders in an unborn baby, and letting physicians simulate hard and soft tissue to better customise joint replacements, plan complex procedures and even teach and explain procedures to patients.

In the VR 3D foetus model, “the virtual reality headset allows you to see the developing foetus instead of the traditional ultrasound. You can study the 3D foetal anatomy by just moving your head,” said study co-author Heron Werner from the Clinica de Diagnostico poor Imagem in Brazil, who presented the findings at RSNA.

Virtual reality 3D models of foetuses help doctors diagnose and treat unborn babies.

“Essentially, the VR tools have transformed imaging from a purely diagnostic tool into an instrument that offers clinicians an immersive experience to help them predict disease progression, plan therapies, lower risk of infection and predict treatment outcomes,” says Dr Vidur Mahajan, associate director at Mahajan Imaging, one of India’s largest medical diagnostics and imaging centres.


One of the biggest challenges for surgeons is the growing number of patients showing up for treatment with one or more chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension (persistent high blood pressure), kidney disease, chronic lung disease, etc. “Such people are at higher risk of complications and death, and take longer to recover from an intervention and surgery, even if it is unrelated to the medical condition for which they are seeking treatment,” says Dr Pradeep Chowbey, chairman of surgery and allied surgical specialities at Max Healthcare, New Delhi.

Given that 200 million Indians have hypertension, 70 million have diabetes, and more than 6 million have chronic kidney disease, the threat from complications is very real.

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who underwent abdominal surgery had longer hospital stays and higher rates of complication and death than otherwise healthy patients, found a study of more than 333,000 patients in the US, published in the journal Surgery, in April.

In the most complex part of the human body, anatomical brain images offer highly accurate renderings of fibre bundles. (Max Planck Institut, Leipzig, Germany)

People with diabetes, a history of heart disease, blood diseases, and chronic kidney disease are also at risk of contrast-induced nephropathy from contrast material given during diagnostic imaging exams such as MRIs, CT scans and angiograms.


Innovations in imaging are making surgery safer even for very high-risk patients. The robot-supported Artis pheno angiography system optimises imaging parameters to minimise radiation, lower risk of infection and treat patients with coexisting chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and kidney disease, among others. It’s clinical software application produces 3D images using less contrast materials, to lower the load on kidneys, while its multi-tilt table improves manoeuvrability for improved clarity while scanning extremities and for improved precision while operating on obese patients who weigh up to 280 kg.

The image-guided system is used for interventional radiology, cardiac surgery and minimally invasive procedures. “Artis is particularly useful for minimally invasive valve replacement and complex spine surgeries, including spinal fusion procedures, using lower doses of anaesthesia, smaller incisions and more precision, all of which lower risk of complications and result in faster recovery,” says Elisabeth Staudinger-Leibrecht, president (Asia-Pacific Region) at Siemens Healthineers, makers of the system.

Even in relatively simple cases like multiple rib fractures, technology offers doctors an immersive experience. (General Hospital of Vancouver, Canada)

The system can be fitted with optional software applications for complex cases involving multiple health issues that complicate minimally-invasive procedures.


The foetal model, meanwhile, lets parents virtually watch their unborn baby grow inside the womb, through technology that uses MRI and ultrasound data. More importantly, it helps doctors better diagnose and treat a baby inside the womb.

Using a headset, physicians can listen to the baby’s heartbeat and interact with the pictured organ or tissue using devices such as VR viewers and styluses that even let them prod the virtual organs, tissue and bone, plan surgeries and even cut into virtual tissue before making a real incision.


This is just the beginning, and already the possibilities seems magical – as with the automated segmentation tools that let you use CT, MR and X-ray images to 3D print anatomical models for medical use. It may not be a holographic map of the brain, but it’s already helping surgeons plan complex heart, vascular and cancer surgeries.

“3D-printing has caught the medical world’s imagination for the leverage it has in manufacturing patient-matching medical devices, drugs and biologics,” says Dr Mahajan. In the US, a 3D-printed bioresorbable airway splint has been used to save a child’s life, a 3D-printed implant has replaced 75% of a man’s skull, and implants for knees and joints are being manufactured customised to each patient’s anatomy for comfort, optimal range of movement and longer life of the joint.

As Dr Mahajan puts it: “Any tool that improves a clinician’s understanding of diseases and their management fills a real gap, and VR imaging is doing just that.”

Just for fun, check out that scene in Iron Man 2 where Potts was wowed by the hologram of her live brain

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