In the past decade, advances in 3D printing technology have made significant contributions throughout the healthcare landscape. New therapies and tools created by 3D printing have brought targeted personalization and precision to patient care.
3D printing services have helped physicians, dentists, pharmaceutical companies, and medical manufacturers develop new devices and prostheses, create surgical models to better plan complex procedures, and they show tremendous promise in tissue and organ engineering.
In 2021, manufacturers are using 3D printing equipment on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Manufacturers are leveraging 3D printing technology to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare staff and restock medical device supplies drained by the crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in an era of innovative new medical uses for health-based 3D printing, a technology that is transforming traditional manufacturing models.
What Is 3D Printing?
3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, creates a 3D solid object from a digital image. The 3D printer creates the item by reading a digital blueprint and reproducing it layer by layer with 3D printing filament and UV light. The layers build on each other until the object is completed.
One of the benefits of 3D printing is that you don’t need the variety of tools and equipment you need in traditional manufacturing. The process requires only the 3D printer, the 3D printing filament, and the digital file, which often is a computer-aided design (CAD).
Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke first imagined 3D printing systems in 1964. In 1987, inventor Chuck Hall created the first commercial rapid prototyping 3D printer. The manufacturing industry began to embrace the technology in 2009, the same year in which an open-source technology project released the first desktop 3D printers.
In 2020, the market research firm SmarTech Analysis reported that the healthcare-related 3D printing market is worth $1.25 billion and will exceed $6 billion by 2027. 3D printing software is poised to complement—rather than replace—traditional manufacturing models. Let’s look at how the medical community is adopting 3D printing materials in critical areas.
Medical devices are among the most common medical uses for a 3D printing service. Manufacturers can use 3D printing software to produce everything from surgical masks to precise surgical instruments on-demand. During the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturers employed 3D modeling to mass-produce parts needed to resolve the ventilator shortage.
More than 90% of the top medical device firms use a 3D printing machine to create products and parts for devices. 3D printing typically is more nimble and less expensive than traditional manufacturing. It also accelerates the design stage for quick prototyping, testing, and engineering.
Hearing aids are one of the most common devices made with 3D systems. More than 10 million 3D-generated hearing aids are in circulation and 3D production of hearing aids now outpaces traditional methods. 3D technology has reduced the production time of hearing aids from over a week to one day.
Prosthetics and Implants
3D technology is transforming the prosthetics industry, greatly improving how prosthetics fit and function. 3D printing technology makes it possible to produce customized prosthetics at a fraction of traditional methods’ cost. This affordable technology is beneficial particularly for children, who quickly grow out of their prosthetics.
The technology is so accessible and affordable that individuals are using it to create their own limbs. e-NABLE, a global community of volunteers, has made low-cost or free arm devices available worldwide. The organization has created more than 8,000 prosthetic mechanical hands and arms for people in more than 100 countries.
One of the first medically approved uses of 3D technology was to make dental implants. Now orthopedic doctors utilize 3D technology to replace missing joints and bones throughout the body, including the skull, jaw, vertebra, knees, hips, wrists, and even the tiny bones of the inner ear and delicate bones in the face.
Medical research centers use 3D services to produce “medical phantoms,” anatomical models that researchers, physicians, and students use as substitutes for human body parts. Surgeons have adopted this method to help them plan complex procedures. For example, in 2017, doctors in Dubai first used 3D technology to produce a model of a patient’s blood vessels to study how to navigate the complicated arterial system before surgery.
3D printers can use CT or MRI scans to produce highly accurate and detailed anatomical models of any part of the body. By using a 3D model, surgeons can create a thorough approach to correcting the medical issue before beginning a procedure on a patient. Medical schools also use 3D anatomical models for education, research, and training.
Bioprinting: The Future of 3D Printing
More than 100,000 people are waiting for organ transplants in the United States alone. Scientists are hopeful that a 3D printing process developed by UC Berkeley will make it possible to produce on-demand living body tissue, blood vessels, bone, and organs. The Berkeley team created a bioprinting process that simultaneously freezes and stacks layers of cells to help the living tissue and organs survive until transplanted.
Medical manufactures’ ability to produce 3D-printed organs, tissues, and other biological materials would revolutionize healthcare and save thousands of lives. Pharmaceutical companies currently use 3D bioprinting to manufacture and test medications. Researchers have used 3D bioprinting to develop sugar stents that are less likely for the body to reject than other vascular stents.
3D Printing Innovation at The Federal Group USA
The Federal Group USA, a Michigan-based engineering and manufacturing company, uses one of the most advanced and innovative 3D printers available. The Markforged Mark Two uses a new approach called continuous fiber layering that dramatically improves the tensile strength of objects made through a 3D printing system.
Michigan’s Project Diamond awarded a grant to The Federal Group USA to secure the advanced 3D printer. The Federal Group is among an elite collection of manufacturers that Project DiamonD has funded to embrace innovative technology and improve digital, on-demand manufacturing.
Contact The Federal Group at 800-759-2658 or online to learn more about our 3D printing capabilities and how to use this exciting technology to expand your business and outpace the competition.
Featured photo: Custom Prosthetic by Toughware Prosthetics