Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Tangible visualisation: Multi-property 3D/4D printing for the design exploration of percutaneous surgical drains

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posted on 2023-05-09, 01:50 authored by Max Syme

This thesis proposes a method of Tangible Visualisation, which results in ideas rendered visible and capable of being interacted with for communication, development, and reflection. Physically manifesting a concept adds value to the design process as information known and unknown can now be perceived in a highly resolved lifelike prototype. Multi-property 3D printing is the process of depositing material to create a complex digital model with varying rigid and flexible qualities and using the Stratasys J750 PolyJet 3D printer allowed for the production of micro-millimetre details at a finished product level resolution.

A surgical drain is a tube that removes infected fluids, such as blood, pus or other liquids, from a wound inside the human body after surgery. Initially, they were designed for irrigation, not drainage, which is a contributing factor to their on average 50% complication rate. Common issues include kinking, tube obstruction, clogging, and dislodgment.

Clinicians may be conceptually aware of changes to make medical devices better; however, for the most part, they do not have the expertise to translate their thoughts into reality. The role of the designer is to render ideas into physical prototypes for interpretation. In this study, multi-property 3D printing was deemed the most appropriate additive manufacturing process for the production of dynamic clinical ideas from the conducted literature and precedent reviews. Research-for-design provided background information for the project. Research-through-design, with a practice-based iterative design approach, explored the capabilities of multi-property 3D printing as a prototyping and visualisation method.

The classification of physical outcomes is either pragmatic concepts designed for current manufacturing technologies and today’s market or speculative ideas that investigated 4D printing and dynamic anatomical structures, where 3D printing may be the manufacturing method. Exploring multiple designs during this research allowed a thorough evaluation of multi-property 3D printing and the development of various surgical drain related concepts, which included, irrigation drains, external skin-fixation devices, stimulus-responsive drains and venous valve structures.

The unique additive manufacturing process proved to be an effective prototyping method while the tangible outputs allowed for the visualisation of complex ideas, being assets in the design process. The results of this study identified that incorporating multi-property 3D printing early in the development phase of a concept allows for the understanding of the constraints but also the opportunities of sophisticated ideas.


Copyright Date



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains All Rights

Degree Discipline

Industrial Design

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Industrial Design

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

970112 Expanding Knowledge in Built Environment and Design

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Design


Guy, Bernard; Fraser, Simon