The human body is just about as far from a mass-manufactured product as you can imagine. Each person is a different shape and size from everyone else, making the task of creating replacement parts something of a challenge.
Historically, these differences have frustrated medicine and increased the cost of things like prosthetics, medical implants, and hearing devices. But additive manufacturing promises to change all this. The technology, now thirty years old, is coming of age and starting to find real-world applications in the medical industry.
How The Medical Industry Has Embraced 3D Printing Technology
The total global 3D printing market stood at $7.3 billion in 2017, with around 11 percent taken up by the medical industry, according to the 2018 Medical Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing report. Medicine has embraced 3D printing technology by seeking out a range of applications, from creating precision prosthetics to improving surgical planning. Data shows that there has been a 3200 percent increase in the number of hospitals in the US with a dedicated 3D printing facility on site over the first half of the decade and that the vast majority of leading medical institutions now use additive manufacturing technology as part of their operations.
How 3D Printing Has Helped The Medical Industry
The medical industry wants 3D printing technology because it will help sidestep the tricky and expensive problem of creating bespoke devices. Rather than having to create molds to make one-off items designed to fit in a specific person, 3D printing gives the medical industry a way to generate items of infinitely complex shapes without incurring additional costs. The patient’s pattern just gets uploaded to a computer and then printed out. It’s no more complicated than your home inkjet computer printing a Monet.
Four Game-Changing 3D Printed Medical Devices
Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which 3D printing is already changing the medical industry with game-changing medical devices.
There’s no longer any need to supply patients with generic “off-the-shelf” implants, such as hip or spinal disc replacements. 3D printing technology allows medical practitioners to create bespoke medical devices, made to precisely fit the patient’s anatomy.
Some medical facilities are investigating the possibility of using 3D printing to make surgical instruments. The idea is to use the technology to make instruments, like clamps, hemostats, forceps, and scalpels smaller so that surgeons can deploy them with less damage to the surrounding tissue.
Custom prosthetics is probably the most likely place that we’ll see 3D printing emerging in the medical field. 3D printing can create custom prosthetics of any desired size and shape, providing a perfect fit for the user.
Bioprinting firm Printalive based at the University of Toronto wanted to develop a better bandage. Burns and other serious injuries often penetrate multiple layers of skin, making wounds challenging to heal. Printalive, therefore, decided to create a low-cost, semi-organic bandage that could be printed to the shape of the injury, and then placed over the damaged tissue to provide superior healing and prevent bacterial infiltration.