The medical sector has been a pioneer in adopting 3D printing technology, with the first 3D printed dental implants and custom prosthetics manufactured in the 1990s. Over the years, 3D printing has captured the attention of the medical field and is projected to be worth $3.5 billion by 2025. Below, we discuss some of the key medical applications for 3D printing and how advanced Smart Factory 3D printings solutions and Smart Factory 3D printing on-demand production services help medical device manufacturers, hospitals, and medical offices realize the benefits of additive manufacturing and better patient outcomes.
Medical Applications for 3D Printing
With additive manufacturing evolving as a cost-effective and scalable alternative to traditional manufacturing methods, the following are some of the key medical applications for 3D printing:
Conventional prosthetics manufacturing methods require expensive casting and re-casting to fit the patient’s anatomy. The accuracy and speed of additive manufacturing of prosthetic limbs enable far greater control over 3D printing of complex designs and yield highly customized, patient-specific body parts with minimal wait time for patients. Further, the biocompatibility of advanced 3D printing materials contributes to the lightness and strength of 3D printed prosthetics.
3D printing eliminates the time-, cost-, and labor-intensive steps in manual orthotic manufacturing processes, including thermoforming, grinding, polishing, and gluing. With minimal post-processing involved, the workflow of manufacturing custom medical orthotic devices — from taking a patient’s foot scan to printing footwear — is significantly accelerated making same-day turnarounds possible. Modern 3D printing solutions facilitate high-throughput batch production of customized orthotics for different patient bases by utilizing elastic and tough resins. The accuracy of 3D-printed medical footwear makes them a preferred choice for diabetic footbeds, diabetic shoes, medical insoles, and other custom orthotics.
3D printing is fast evolving as an integral part of sports medicine. The lightweight lattice structures and durability of 3D printing materials have further increased the demand for 3D printed sustainable protection gears for athletes, including shoes, shin guards, protection masks, helmets, mouthguards, and customized specialty prosthetics. 3D printed athletic shoes can sustain the same shape, performance, and rebound far longer than the shoes made with foam soles. Shoes made with foam midsoles can start experiencing degradation in less than 100,000 heel strikes, whereas 3D printed shoes can maintain rebound performance and comfort for more than one million heel strikes.
Patient-specific organ replicas created through 3D printing are used by surgeons to practice before performing complicated medical procedures, including transplants and spinal surgeries. Surgery preparation using 3D printed organ models is fast becoming a routine practice as it has been proven to speed up operations and minimize patient trauma.
Scalpel handles, forceps, retractors, needle drivers, hemostats, and clamps are standard surgical tools manufactured through 3D printing technology. The common perception of ‘one-size-fits-all’ about surgical instruments is fast evolving with 3D printing technology. Manufacturers can include specific modifications to the designs based on surgeons’ feedback on prototypes. The speed at which designs can be improved upon, customized, and printed enables rapid alterations to optimize functions of surgical instruments for specific procedures. By allowing a print-on-demand model that eliminates expensive tooling, 3D printing is expected to drive innovations in surgical instruments in a cost-effective fashion.
3D printing has changed microfluidics by manufacturing custom-made, low-cost equipment needed in biochemical and clinical applications, including point-of-care diagnostics, cancer screening, medical research, and others. With benefits such as fast fabrication, processing of different materials, durability, and accessibility, additive manufacturing has enabled customized 3D printed microfluidic devices for various biomedical applications.
Braces and Casts
Traditional casts and braces offer a standard fit and are not explicitly designed to fit a patient’s exact contours. 3D printing technology enables customization of braces and casts that are more snug-fit and are easier to wear. The durability, elasticity, and lightweight nature of 3D printed materials make braces and casts waterproof while offering flexibility and hygiene to speed up the healing process.
Education and Training
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Tomography (CT) provide detailed images of tissue structures and organs in the patient’s body. The images obtained from MRI and CT scans can be used to create 3D printed models that can mimic the body processes such as blood pumping. Such 3D printed models are beneficial for surgical training and planning, as well as for helping patients understand their anatomy and treatment plans.
Bioprinters create artificial living tissues using a computer-guided pipette to layer living cells on top of one another. The constructed tissues or organoids mimic animal organs on a miniature scale and have potential applications in disease modeling and drug discovery. However, bioprinting is still nascent with the experimental creation of cellular and tissue constructs in laboratories.
Orthopedic cervical pillows are recommended for patients suffering from neck pain to correct the posture and spinal alignment naturally. 3D printing lets manufacturing lightweight and cost-efficient orthopedic cervical pillows, aided by X-rays that capture exact contours of the spine and neck and identify pressure points to create highly customized products.
The conventional fabrication of dental appliances, including restorative dental implants, personal protective equipment, surgical guides, and night guards and retainers, is a time-consuming and expensive process. On-demand 3D printing services have enabled dental offices and labs to experience faster turnaround times with cost-effective production processes and reduced material wastage. 3D printing streamlines the manufacturing process with little to no post-processing steps to easily create customized, patient-specific dental appliances. Advanced 3D printing materials account for higher durability and strength of dental appliances than those manufactured with traditional materials such as porcelain.
3D printing has revolutionized the manufacturing of custom-made In-the-Ear (ITE) and In-the-Canal (ITC) style hearing aids modeled on individual patients’ anatomy. The traditional manufacturing process of these hearing aids involved injecting silicone into the patient’s ear to create an ear canal model for a mold to cast the hearing aid device. Though the traditional manufacturing approach yields accurate devices, the process is relatively slow and expensive. 3D printing eliminates the need to create individual negative molds for each impression, thereby enabling batch printing of multiple custom hearing aids in record time, saving material and costs.
The benefits of additive manufacturing in these medical applications can be best realized through advanced Smart Factory 3D printings solutions and Smart Factory 3D printing on-demand production services that tune the hardware, software, and materials to improve patient outcomes.
Advanced 3D Printing Solutions for Medical Applications
Our Smart Factory 3D printings solutions and Smart Factory 3D printing on-demand production services offer an easy way to manufacture on-demand, customized products for medical applications. Our advanced range of Smart Factory 3D printers enables accurate, fast, and rapid prototyping with the software driving accurate and consistent high-throughput and high-yield at production scale. Our suite of high-performance production polymers is well-suited for a wide range of medical applications. With such advanced 3D printing solutions, LuxCreo can help you implement additive manufacturing for many customized medical devices and products at scale.
For more information on how medical applications can benefit from LuxCreo’s Smart Factory 3D printing solutions and on-demand production services, visit our contact page or call (650) 336 0888.