Close-up of 3D printed trachea with connection point for inflatable pathology.Close-up of 3D printed trachea with connection point for inflatable pathology.

Airway Simulator

4D printing | Medical design

Simulating patient pathology in an interactive trachea model for airway management training

This 3D printed model of an adult trachea mimics the look, feel and function of complex human anatomy. It is designed for simulation purposes to give medical practitioners more realistic tactile and visual feedback. Novel dynamic parts with pneumatic and fluid mechanics feature throughout the trachea. Movements like fluid secretion, bleeding or constriction can be reproduced by attaching syringes. This interactive trachea allows abnormalities to be identified and procedures to be trained with a high degree of realism. There is also the opportunity to customise the model to patient-specific data.

Design Tools

3D Slicer, ZBrush, Rhino + Grasshopper, Houdini, Netfabb, GrabCAD, Stratasys J750 3D Printer, InDesign

My Role

Conceptualisation, 3D modelling, manufacture


Teaming with Bernard Guy (Lecturer and Industrial Designer), James Broadbent (Anaesthetist) and Jeremy Young (Anaesthetist) to conceptualise, review and validate the project. Content for publication supported by Rao Fu.

Side view of 3D printed trachea.Close-up of stenosis in bronchus of 3D printed trachea.Close-up of bronchi tips of 3D printed trachea.Diagram of dynamic pathology located on inside of simulated trachea.

Medical evaluation

A team of anaesthetists tested the model in a simulated bronchoscopy. The sequences of images below capture the journey of the scope travelling through the model. The feedback loop between clinician and designer is vital to developing greater anatomical realism while ensuring the model can tolerate medical procedures.

Front view of 3D printed trachea front attached to syringe.Rear view of 3D printed trachea front attached to syringe.View from bronchoscope exploring inside of trachea model while simulating patient pathology and bodily fluids.

From scan to physical simulation

The trachea 3D model is an amalgamation of human scan data and custom-designed pathology. Firstly, the trachea is segmented from a scan of the thoracic region. The mesh is cleaned and anatomical details are restored. Careful research into medical reports, videos and images of airway pathology guide the design of abnormal features. Variable colour and material qualities are seen throughout the model thanks to digitally mixed PolyJet materials. This allows a smooth integration of firm cartilage rings through to soft bronchial endings.

Sketches of designing the simulated trachea.Screenshot from 3D slicer and ZBrush showing the creation of the trachea model from scan data.3D printed trachea covered in support material prior to cleaning.3D printed segments of trachea testing different pathology and functions.