- ✓ Custom prints for every patient
- ✓ Good sterilizable
- ✓ Endless complexity
The medical industry is known to be most advanced in the way in which new treatments and methods have been developed. Not to mention the technologies that drive all of this forward. There has been no shortage of miracles and that continues to happen. Now 3D printing in healthcare is coming as well.
One of the ways in which the medical industry has been improved and enhanced is through the use of 3D printers. 3D printing in healthcare makes it possible for medical professionals to provide patients with a new form of treatment in a number of ways. 3D printing is used for the development of new surgical cutting and drill guides, prosthetics as well as the creation of patient-specific replicas of bones, organs, and blood vessels.
Recent advances of 3D printing in healthcare have led to lighter, stronger and safer products, reduced lead times and lower costs. Custom parts can be tailored to each individual. This improves the understanding of patients by medical professionals and improves patient comfort level by allowing interaction with products that are designed especially for their anatomy.
Due to the individualized nature of healthcare, 3D printing is a perfect solution for this industry. As opposed to fabricate a large number of identical parts, 3D printing empowers the creation of prosthetic and orthotic devices custom fitted to a patient’s particular anatomy. Thereby enhancing their adequacy.
To proces to make new tools can be long and costly. Even when it’s created in-house or outsourced. Within critical situations, the long lead time can literally be live threathning. 3D printing in healthcare provides designers and engineers the tools to rapidly make and iterate designs. Next to faster prototyping, the communication can be more effectively when using realistic prototypes. An essential part of the success of any medical device is the feedback from doctors and patients. Combined with the speed these design improvements can be implemented. The 3D printer is so accurate that the custom parts can be designed and sent to print in very little time. Within a matter of hours it is possible to iterate the design of a medical tool based on direct feedback from the surgeon. Who will use it and print a new model for assessment in no time at all.
The fast feedback loop accelerates design development. Manufacturers can also use early 3D printed parts to support clinical trials or early commercialization while the final design is still being optimized. The time to print parts is often much faster when compared to traditional manufacturing methods, but there is still significant time required for the conversion of scan data to produce a printable file. So for more urgent trauma cases it is not an ideal solution.
Creating custom parts and devices requires a significant amount of detail. When the process is completed manually, there is a risk of human error and this could set projects back in terms of cost and time. However, 3D printing has enabled doctors to make several iterations before it is printed, helping them to identify any potential errors, ensuring that the final product is perfect. In addition to the capacity to make custom, complex parts, 3D printing in healthcare is most appropriate for low volume production meaning costs will drop while effectiveness increases. Costly tooling or machining processes are no longer needed. Also waste is reduced which further reduces the costs.
Due to the application of some parts used in the medical industry, sterilizable is an important material property. 3D printing knows a lot of materials that are strong, lightweight and sterilizable with PEEK and Ultem being the most appropriate.
Where before, conventional manufacturing may have struggled to create complex, organic shapes, the designs that 3D printers are now able to produce are potentially limitless. New composites and hybrid plastics make it possible to create bodyparts that have improved strength and are lightweight. Through selecting the correct materials and combining them with designs that are completely accurate and precise, the patients benefit from an enhanced quality, comfort and freedom.
While the focus has been on 3D printing implants and medical devices used by patients, one of the largest areas of application is the fabrication of anatomical replicas. Doctors are currently utilizing models produced by 3D printing from patient scan data to enhance the diagnosis of illnesses, clarify treatment decisions, plan, and, in some cases, even practice chosen surgical interventions in advance of the actual treatments. The models enable doctors to understand patient anatomy that is difficult to visualize, especially when using minimally invasive techniques. Models also assist in precisely sizing medical devices. Doctors can also utilize the models to explain an upcoming medical procedure to patients and their families and to communicate the surgical steps to their colleagues.
To help reduce cost, some facilities have developed procedures where surgeons practice and plan operations on cheap mannequins that are transplanted with patient-specific 3D printed models. Surgeons can now obtain an even better understanding of precisely how a procedure needs to be performed right down to the touch and feel of the distinctive parts of a patient’s anatomy. FDM printers are perfect for geometrically basic surgical models that don’t require a high level of detail or include intricate features.
Doctors use tools to assist in surgery. These were conventionally made of titanium or aluminum. With 3D printing in healthcare, doctors can create tools that accurately follow a patient’s unique anatomy. 3D printed tools are used to make the placement of restorative treatments (screws, plates and implants) more precise, resulting in better postoperative results. The FDM 3D printing technology is ideal for iterative, low-cost prototyping to optimize the design of a tool.
In the United States close to 200.000 amputations are performed each year. Replacement or alterations can be time consuming and expensive. Because prosthetics are such personal items, each one has to be custom-made or fit to the needs of the wearer. 3D printing changed all this and is now regularly being used to produce patient specific components of prosthetics that match perfectly with the user’s anatomy.