3D Printing: Benefits and Application in the Healthcare Industry

Oct 13, 2021
5 min read

3D printing is employed in both additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping. Objects of various shapes or geometry and can be produced using digital model data from an electronic data source or a 3D model. The availability of a wide spectrum of 3D applications has led to the increasing adaption of 3D printing in the healthcare sector and has paved the way for market growth at a high rate.

A 3D printer in medicine can be seen as a part of an innovative technique called additive manufacturing, which enables the production of solid objects in three dimensions from digital files.

With the pandemic in 2020, 3D printing was extensively used to develop various parts of ventilators, expanding the healthcare 3D printing market.

Key factors that have supported the expansion of 3D printing within the healthcare market are as below:

· Easy development of personalized and customized products

· Availability of advanced 3D printing materials for dental and medical applications

· Increased demand for 3D printed products within the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry

· Increasing public-private funding for 3D printing undertakings

Medical 3D printing devices have shown promise in the fields of tissue engineering, bioprinting, and burn surgery. Such technology has enabled the creation of layers of human skin that have saved the lives of people who have suffered critical injuries.

Many companies in the healthcare industry have developed innovations in 3D printing to make scanning via smartphones easier. As a result of its ease and convenience, this technology seems to have tremendous potential to transform human health and growth in the healthcare industry.

Further, it is expected that, as healthcare institutions begin to provide non-essential surgeries and implants, safety protocols surrounding the production method (of implants) can be put in place, which will have a positive impact on the market both in the short-term and long-term forecast period.

Some major players in the global 3D printing in the Medical Devices market are:

· Stratasys Ltd. (US & Israel)

· 3D Systems Corporation (US)

· GE Additive (US)

· Materialise NV (Belgium)

· Renishaw plc (UK)

· SLM Solutions Group AG (Germany), and many more

Benefits of 3D Printing in Healthcare

High Customization – 3D printing technology is perfect for the healthcare industry due to its high complexity and personalized requirements. 3D printed parts cater to individual patient’s anatomy and reduce discomfort and increase the healing time.

Reduce Lead Time and Cost– Tools used in the healthcare industry are not only sophisticated but expensive and time-consuming to manufacture. With 3D printers, it is easier to design, change, and modify tools as per the doctor’s feedback within a few hours. The complexity and the risks of human errors in traditional manufacturing make it costly. Also, costly tools, machining processes, and material wastage are eliminated, thus lowering costs.

Sterilization – With traditional manufacturing, it is necessary to sterilize every tool due to the high risk of infection; however, with 3D printers tools can be easily sterilized with materials like Ultem and PEEK.

Complexity – Sophisticated organ shapes and designs are hard to produce with traditional manufacturing. With the availability of new 3D printable raw materials and advancement in technology, 3D printers make it possible to construct robust and lightweight body parts and designs with accuracy and that allow limitless creativity.

Application of 3D Printing in Healthcare

1. On-demand Medical Devices

3D printing is widely used in the healthcare industry for manufacturing cost-effective and accurate medical devices on demand. The technology is versatile and cost-effective to manufacture highly customized medical devices and can be used as a quick replacement.

2. Affordable Prosthetics

Creating affordable prosthetics is another usage of 3D printing. Unlike traditional manufacturing where customized prosthetics would take weeks to manufacture, with additive manufacturing it can be done in a few days and would cost very minimal compared to the traditional method. The technology allows complex design detailing giving great functionality and a full range of motion, which can be achieved with additive manufacturing.

3. Patient-specific Surgical Models

Globally, 3D printed anatomical models are used as reference tools by various healthcare professionals, hospitals, and research organizations. Some of the uses are for preoperative planning, pre-fitting medical equipment, and intraoperative visualization, and highly complex procedures.

To further enhance the clinical experience, new surgical gears and tools have been developed using new biocompatible medical 3D printing substances, which helps surgeons to achieve improved efficiency and accuracy and reducing the time taken for complex operative procedures.

4. Dental 3D Printing

The dental industry requires a high level of customization due to the pattern, development, and arrangement of an individual’s teeth. Additive manufacturing helps achieve these highly complex and customized dental products to be printed with accuracy and high quality, thus eliminating the traditional molding process, saving time, and reducing costs. 3D printers in dentistry are used to produce crown and bridge models, orthodontic models, clear aligners, surgical guides, and retainers.

5. Corrective Insoles and Orthoses

Orthotic devices are wearables generally used for aligning, supporting, preventing, correcting, or improving the overall function of the foot or ankle. Shoe insoles are one of the most common non-surgical orthotic products used to correct foot and ankle problems. Manufacturing custom orthoses takes weeks to months and is very expensive.

Today, 3D printing is used globally by professionals to print customized orthoses and insoles with better fit, comfort, and therapeutic outcome within a short period of time and at a lesser cost – benefitting both the patient and the therapist.

6. Bioprinting, Tissue engineering, 3D printed organs

The use of additive manufacturing to print living structures that mimic the behavior of natural living systems using cells and bioinks is called 3D bioprinting.

The 2020 national data on Organ Donation and Transplantation Statistics in the USA alone shows 183,690 registrations are on the waiting list for organs, 37,484 patients received a transplant, and there were only 18,316 living and deceased donors. The greatest need is for kidney transplants – for which 92,036 patients were on the waiting list in this period.

Due to the huge gap in the availability of organs through donors living or dead and the number of patients waiting for an organ, 3D bioprinting could be the solution to bridge this gap.

Tissue engineering is a complicated process that involves forming 3D functional tissues. Tissue engineering is used to help repair, replace, and regenerate tissue or organ in the body using scaffolds combined with cells and biomolecules. A good example is skin grafting – especially for patients who suffered burn injuries or for patients suffering from skin issues.

Conclusion:

As with other industries, 3D printing technology has paved its way into the healthcare sector. Due to the immense benefits it offers and the advancement in technology and 3D printing biomaterials, in the future, we could see most of the medical devices created with 3D printers. Bioprinting, tissue engineering, and organ printing technologies can lend a new lease of life to millions of people.

Sources:
https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/3d-printing-medical-devices-market-90799911.html
https://formlabs.com/asia/blog/3d-printing-in-medicine-healthcare/
https://www.additiveaccelerator.com/3d-printing-the-future-of-healthcare-industry/
https://data.hrsa.gov/topics/health-systems/organ-donation