3D printing is a process that creates a three-dimensional object by building successive layers of raw material which are produced from a digital 3D file, such as a computer-aided design (CAD) drawing or a Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI).
3D printed medical devices can help doctors better visualize complex health cases. Because of its versatility, 3D printing also has medical applications for FDA-regulated drugs and biologics. Some technical steps are required to finalize a printed model which include selecting the anatomical target area, the development of the 3D geometry through the processing of the medical images coming from a CT/MRI scan, the optimization of the file for the physical printing, and the appropriate selection of the 3D printer and materials.
The future is near when it comes to 3D printing. In current times, manufacturers use 3D printing to create devices matched to a patient’s anatomy as well as devices with very complex internal structures. This has sparked huge interest in the 3D printing of medical devices and other products, including food, household items, and automotive parts.
Patient-Specific Devices and Implants: Patient-specific devices (like hearing aids) and implants (like artificial joints, cranial plates and even heart valves) are rapidly converting to 3D printing for its easy customization and fast production. There are design advantages too like the 3D printed silicone heart valves provide an exact fit that rigid, traditionally manufactured heart valves simply can’t. For implants like titanium artificial joints or cranial plates, 3D printing can create complex, porous surfaces that make patients’ bodies less likely to reject the implants.
Dentistry and Orthodontics: We rely on our teeth to stand up to heavy use day after day—as a result, dentures, crowns, implants and retainers need to be durable, precise and comfortable. On top of that, they need to be made of biocompatible materials like cobalt chrome and porcelain. 3D printing allows dental and orthodontic professionals to accomplish all of this faster and at less cost than traditional methods. A combination of 3D scans and x-rays can be used to produce high-quality dental devices without any setup time. Even for devices like braces or expanders that do not require 3D printed components, 3D printed models made from sterilizable plastics can be used to measure form and fit.
Prosthetics: The prosthesis-fitting process typically consists of multiple castings and follow-up appointments to fine tune the fit. With 3D printing, patients don’t even need to sit for a physical cast, instead, technicians can use a 3D scanner to quickly create a precise 3D model of the patient’s residual limb. This 3D scan then serves as the basis for an accurate and affordable 3D printed socket that typically only requires a single fitting visit.
Medical Device Development: 3D helps medical device developers produce and test functional prototypes in a fraction of the time, leading to more iterations, better products and less expensive care. Additive manufacturing shines in product development because of its fast turnaround, easy alterations and low cost for very small volumes of parts, it can easily save businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars and months of time in product development.
Custom Anatomical Models: Students and professionals regularly use models for education, training, surgery preparation and to provide visual aids for patients. With 3D printing, medical professionals and educators can create affordable custom anatomical models for a range of purposes. For example, surgeons can practice for difficult surgeries using patient-specific models that precisely reproduce the conditions that they will encounter during surgeries.
Bioprinting: It works like other 3D printing technologies by using a range of methods, material is deposited or solidified in successive layers to build 3D objects. With bioprinting, printers use stem cells or cells cultivated from tissue samples. These cells are held together with a binding gel or collagen scaffold. Bioprinted body parts and organs would allow patients’ natural tissue to grow over the 3D printed parts and eventually replace the cells with their own.
From printing patient-specific surgical models, surgical instruments to customized prosthetics, 3D printed implants’ applications are vast and ever-growing. One of the most popular applications is ‘patient specific implant’, which has multiple benefits for both- doctors and patients.
Aesthetics: 3D printed implants provide very good aesthetics, thus giving back patient’s their lost shape as well as confidence in a very less span of time.
Faster patient’s recovery: If the implants are of perfect fit they will start performing their functions early and help in the speedy recovery of patients. Post-op recovery may get delayed if the surgery performed is not efficient due to multiple implants adjustment, larger resection of bones to adjust conventional implants, longer operative times, or any infection occurred during the surgery.
Less surgery time: In traditional procedures of implant surgeries, surgeons perform a pre-op assessment on a patient and then visually inspect the placement of the implant. The surgeon makes repeated adjustments until a best fit is found. More adjustments mean longer operative times, higher risk of infections, and are likely to delay post-op recovery. 3D printed implants help to resolve these problems and give a high-success rate in surgery.
Perfect fit: 3D printed implants offer a perfect fit for the patients as they are designed precisely as per the patient’s anatomy. Any complex shape can be easily made with the help of ultra-modern 3D designing software and 3D printing machine, that too in much lesser time and without taking multiple sessions with a patient.
Less damage to the patient: By using 3D metal printed customized implants will help surgeons to plan surgeries well. Such innovative implants fit well with the defective anatomy where surgeons don’t need to resect large bony tissues and soft tissue to fit the implant perfectly.
Product development - Creation of new kinds of geometries like trabecular lattices to encourage bone in-growth on a given implant, 3D printing allows all. The technology not just offers the capability to create and test these geometries, but to prototype them using the intended manufacturing process. When the right design is found, the implant can go straight into production.
Custom implants more get-at-able - Custom implants can be developed and made much more quickly. Patients can have access to implants made to fit their bodies leading to easier surgeries and better health outcomes.
Biocompatible materials - There is a process for the 3D printing of stents made from nitinol, a shape memory alloy that will resume its intended geometry after deformation; the material is already used for arterial stents, but the ability to apply it with 3D printing could enable more sizes and configurations to made easily. Bioceramics used as support structures and artificial bone grafts can be 3D printed into precise geometries to fit a patient’s anatomy rather than having to be packed manually by the surgeon.
Simplifying procedures - Working with an implant made for the patient at hand means that the surgeon has less manual work to do in the operating room. Procedures can be accomplished faster and less invasively and thus patients recovering more quickly and with better health outcomes. 3D printed implants could even reduce the number of surgeries necessary for a given condition. For example, glaucoma stents 3D printed from a dissolvable polymer could eliminate the follow-up surgery necessary to remove the titanium devices commonly used today.
The 3D printing medical devices market is projected to grow from USD 0.84 billion in 2017 to USD 1.88 billion by 2022, at a CAGR of 17.5% during the forecast period. Market growth is largely driven by factors such as technological advancements, increasing public-private funding for 3D printing activities, easy development of customized medical products, and growing applications in the healthcare industry. In 2017, the software & services segment accounted for the largest share of the 3D printing medical devices market. Whereas, the 3D printing equipment segment is poised to witness the highest growth rate during the forecast period.
Every year, 3D printing offers more and more applications in the healthcare field helping to save and improve lives. In fact, 3D printing has been used in a wide range of healthcare settings including, but not limited to cardiothoracic surgery, cardiology, gastroenterology, neurosurgery, oral and maxillofacial surgery, ophthalmology, otolaryngology, orthopaedic surgery, plastic surgery, podiatry, pulmonology, radiation oncology, transplant surgery, urology, and vascular surgery. This clearly shows that 3D printing is one of the most turbulent technologies that have the potential and capability to significantly change the clinical field making care affordable, accessible, and personalized. As printers evolve, printing biomaterials get safety regulated and the public understands how 3D printing works.
Tanisha is a Technical Content Writer at Copperpod IP. She has a Master's degree and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics specialising in Policy Making and Industrial Economics. Tanisha has worked before as a Content Strategist at an Event Management Company and a Non-Profit Organisation. She takes a keen interest in Sensor Networks, IoT, Wearables, Life sciences and Virtual Reality.