3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has been around since 1984. But it wasn’t until recent advances in the technology that people began to take notice.
Today, you can purchase 3D-printed shoes, jewellery, pens, and vehicles. In 2014 alone, the 3D-printing industry grew by 35.2%. And although the industry saw a slight slowdown in 2015, innovations with 3D-printed products are visible among a wide range of industries. The most exciting advances, though, in 3D printing ,can be found in the world of medicine.
3D printing is changing the entire medical field. Thanks to this technology, the creation of patient-specific devices are now possible.
We often hear of desktop 3D printing being a tool for designers and engineers, but prototyping technology is making waves in healthcare, especially for medical modeling and surgical planning purposes.
Medical technologies often are expensive when they enter the market, becoming cheaper over time, but many of the new 3D-printed solutions are coming in at a reasonable price point. This shift has the potential to disrupt the alarming rise of health care costs.
Experts have developed a 3D-printed skin for burn victims and airway splints for babies with tracheobronchomalacia, which makes the tiny airways in the lungs prone to collapsing. The airway splints were particularly significant since they are the first 3D implant made for kids and they’re designed to grow with the patient.
One of the reasons as to why 3D-printed solutions are often cost-effective is the technology: the process involved in building a solid, three-dimensional object from a CAD design. This process ensures that items can be assembled directly from a CAD model, increasing precision and removing room for error. Moreover, it is distinct from older manufacturing techniques, which usually rely on removal (by cutting, drilling, chopping, etc.) instead of addition. These waste and extraction costs add up whereas 3D printing wipes out those issues.
Many 3D-printed medical solutions are still in their experimental stages, but first tests are looking promising in a variety of areas. The ease of converting a CAD model made with accuracy is quite high.
Customization with 3D Printing
When people hear the word customization, they most often think of personalizing their shoes, jewellery or their bike. But when it comes to medical technology, customization does a lot more than cater to taste. Creating tailor-made medical devices is a matter of necessity. Whether prosthetics, dental implants, or a wheelchair, if a medical device does not fit perfectly, then it is rendered useless.
With the advent of 3D printing, the production of small batches is possible. For medical devices, this could mean the end of standard models, which often fail to address the particular needs of each patient. Instead, it has been made possible now for products to be individually manufactured for the intended user.
As 3D printing technology improves, the production cost of many goods is bound to reduce. Lower costs are welcomed in every sector, and in the case of medical technology, they have the added benefit of improving accessibility to necessary medical devices.
The possible medical applications of 3D printing technology are innumerable. Some, like prosthetics, already enjoy widespread use. Others, like 3D printed tissues, may take a bit longer before they become viable options.