3D Printing In Medicine Explained; Impact, Uses, Printable Devices & Pros & Cons


Advances in additive manufacturing (3D printing), are catching attention within the healthcare industry due to their potential to enhance treatment for certain medical conditions.

For instance, a radiologist may create an exact copy of a patient’s spine using 3D printing technology to assist plan for spine surgery.

A dentist is capable of scanning a broken tooth with the help of 3D printing technology to produce a replica that fits into the patient’s mouth.

The journey is not stopping anytime soon! 3D printing technology has enabled the production of customized cranial implants, orthopedic implants like knees and hips, or prosthetic limbs.

3D Printing Is Here To Stay

While 3D printing has enhanced operations within the medical industry, its potential to change medical products manufacturing- especially high-risk medical devices like implants may affect patient safety.

This has called for the creation of a Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) body that plays an oversight role in regulating products that are using 3D printing technology. 

FDA regulates all medical products made using 3D printing technology. The type of regulatory review needed depends on the type of end product, the potential risks posed by the product to patients, and the intended use of the product. 

Medical devices made by 3D printing technology are regulated by The FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health agency helps to regulate the medical devices created through the 3D printing technology.

Other than Medicine, A 3d Printers are quite handy in a lot of other industries as well. Check out the outpost on How Practical Is 3D Printing? First Easy Useful Prints – Skills & Time You Need

Where is 3D printing used in medicine?

3D printing has been found useful in many industries, and the medical field is definitely not an exception. It has been said that 3D printing technology can be used to make surgical procedures faster, make prosthetic limbs available for those reliant on them, create human organs for transplant, and produce less expensive surgical tools.

There are four main uses of 3D printing technology in the medical field: creating surgical tools, custom-made prosthetics, patient-specific surgical models, and creating organs and tissues.

  • Bioprinting organs and tissues

Bioprinting is one of the 3D printing technologies used in the medical device field. Instead of using metal or plastics for 3D printing, bioprinters can use bio-ink. Bio-ink is a computer-guided tube used to layer living cells to create artificial living tissue used in a laboratory.

These tissues can be used in medical research as cheaper alternatives available for human organ transplants. (Source)

  • Creating patient-specific organ replicas

Another application of 3D printing technology within the medical field is developing patient organ replicas used by surgeons for practice purposes before performing complicated operations. This technology has been proven to minimize trauma for patients by speeding up procedures.

This procedure has been successfully performed in surgeries ranging from spinal procedures to full-face transplants.

  • 3D printing of surgical instruments

3D printing technology is also used to produce sterile surgical instruments such as hemostats, clamps, scalpel handles, and forceps. These surgical instruments can be used to successfully operate patients on tiny areas without causing avoidable extra damage.

  • Custom-made prosthetics using the 3D printing technology

3D printing technology can also be used to produce customized prosthetic limbs in the medical field suitable for the patient. 3D printing has made this process faster at the same time creating much cheaper products.  

The products also come at affordable rates, making them applicable for use with kids, who outgrow their prosthetic limbs quickly.

Find out other jobs helped by 3D printing here

What medical devices are 3D printed?

The 3D printing technology is used to produce a vast range of medical devices within the medical industry including: (Source)

  • Surgical instruments

Surgical instruments such as medical clamps, hemostats, scalpel handles, retractors, needle drivers, and retractors are some of the surgical instruments produced using 3D printing technology.

The 3D printing technology is advantageous in producing these medical instruments because engineers can make specific modifications on the 3D print design requested by surgeons after using a prototype.

  • Prosthetics

3D printing technology has been widely used to create customized and personalized human body parts such as individual limbs, toes as well as fingers.

3D printing technology enables greater control of final products, allowing more multifaceted designs, and making 3D printed prosthetics stronger and lighter due to the materials used. This process also offers substantial cost savings for patients requiring prosthetics since more is produced and has reduced the cost of operation.

  • Orthopedic implants

Orthopedic implants are medical devices produced using 3D printing technology to provide a replacement for missing bones and joints or to support any damaged bone. 

Implants such as joint replacements in the wrists, hips, or knee and fixation devices like screws, wires, pins, and plates can be inserted into your body to facilitate the healing of fractured bones over a short period of time. 3D printing technology allows for rapid Orthopedic implants designs.

  • Medical phantoms

Medical phantoms are basically 3D objects used as replacements tools for human organs, tissues, among other biological elements in order to prevent any direct risks to patients.

Medical phantoms can be used in testing medical imaging systems and training doctors about surgical procedures and various diseases, before coming in contact with a living subject. 

What are some advantages and disadvantages of 3D printing medical devices?

The advantages of 3D printing medical devices include:

  • Making devices which are personalized and specific to patients:

 With 3D printing, it is possible to create devices and implants specific to the needs of patients and this will help improve the rate of recovery and reduce the level of pains patients might be experiencing. Some of these personalized medical devices include: prosthetic limbs, orthopedic implants, cranial implants and so much more.

  • Quick and fast manufacturing of devices which are in high demand:

The speed involved in 3D printing can help reduce the delays patients might encounter when waiting for certain personalized medical devices.

With 3D printing, manufacturers can easily and quickly create devices to meet the high demand of patients. When these waiting times are reduced, there will be fewer occurrence of complications.

  • Makes medical prototyping easier:

With traditional manufacturing, it takes more time to create prototypes of devices to be used for testing. This is an issue because the long period of prototype design also delays the testing period. But with 3D printing, it is easy, faster and cheaper to make prototypes of medical devices for testing before it is launched for use.

The disadvantages of 3D printing medical devices include:

  • The process is not eco-friendly:

3D printing consumes a lot of plastic and energy. And although 3D printing tends to recycle these plastics to create a finished product it is still not good for the environment.

  • The 3D printing materials are not enough:

The materials used in 3D printing are limited, although more new materials have been speculated to arrive in months or years time. Because of this limitation, certain medical devices cannot be printed easily as their material may not be available. Here the best bet is to go for the traditional manufacturing methods.

  • The quality of the 3D printed objects are not always consistent:

There are some 3D printed objects that differ in dimensions or texture as a result of irregularities that might have been encountered during the manufacturing processes. These mistakes have caused manufacturers to spend a lot of money on fixing the problem.

However it has been said that new 3D printing technology is being developed and improved upon, so these irregularities might not be a problem in the future. (Source)

What is the cost of a 3D printer?

One of the most common questions you will meet in 3D printing technology is “How Much Does a Medical 3D Printer Cost?” There is no straightforward answer to this question, however, the cost of 3D printers depends on your exact needs. It is also important to note that the price of a 3D printer is far much different from the cost of normal printers in the market. 

The prices of 3D printers depend on their features, size, durability place of manufacture, performance, and quality.

As of April 2021, all the different 3D printers available in the market were averaged at a price of $400, which is now equated with cheap entry-level 3D printers. Most of these consumer-level printers are priced from $200 to $500 while, the higher-end professional 3D printers cost anywhere between $1500 to $6000 depending on their capabilities.

Industrial 3D printers are very expensive to own and operate as an individual and are priced between $20,000 to $100,000. (Source)

Conclusion

3D printing technology offers weighty promises within the healthcare industry, simply because of its ability to generate high-quality customized products. However, this technology also grants challenges for thorough oversight.

As we adopt 3D printing technology extensively, regulatory oversight measures must be put in place in order to ensure that the benefits of 3D printing technology overshadow the potential risks.

Also check out our post on In What Situations Are 3D Printing Most Valuable? And Why Use It!

Do you have any queries about medical device solutions in 3D printing? Worry not! At 3D Print Schooling, we shall help you learn more about 3D printed medical devices and the key applications of 3D printing in the medical industry.

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