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3D Printing and Viable Medical Applications

There are so many industries where 3D printing is making an impact...

While there are so many industries where 3D printing is making an impact, those impacts pale in comparison to how it could revolutionize the medical applications and healthcare industries.

There are a few different types of medical applications for 3D printing, and those include tissue and organ fabrication, customizable prosthetic creation, implants and anatomical models. Not all these methods are fool proof, but the progress that has been made over the past few years is very encouraging.

If the current trend is any indicator of the future, it suggests that 3D printing will be a cornerstone of the healthcare industry in the coming decades.


How 3D Printing Works

The concept of three-dimensional printing is to create objects by fusing and depositing materials in different layers. This results in 3D objects that are made from items like plastic, metal, ceramics, liquids and even living cells. 3D printers come in many shapes and sizes, depending on the purpose. Some are like the regular office printers that most are accustomed to seeing.

There are three major types of 3D printers available today. These include the thermal inkjet printers, fused deposition modeling printers and selective laser sintering printers.

With SLS printers, powdered material is used as a substrate when printing objects. A laser is used to draw the object’s shape in the powder, and then fuses everything together. Then layers of powder are laid down until the object is fully formed.

Thermal inkjet printing uses thermal, electromagnetic or piezoelectric technology to deposit droplets onto a substrate based on instructions from computer programs. These types of printers are great for regenerative medicine.

Fused deposition modeling printers are the cheapest on the market. These printers use heated plastic beads to build an object in thin layers.


How 3D Printing Will Impact the Medical Industry

One of the most important benefits of 3D printing is related to customization. When prosthetics and implants are fitted on a person to replace a hand, arm or leg, they are typically in a generic size and shape. This means some people may have a comfortable fit, while others have tons of problems until they can find the right prosthetic. With 3D printing, it is possible to print out the perfect prosthetic or implant for a person on the first try.

3D printing is especially promising for the industry because of the cost. Even though it seems like such a complicated process, the cost of using 3D printing to produce items is a lot cheaper than manufacturing those items in a traditional way. When small production is needed, 3D printing is much cheaper, whereas manufacturing only becomes cost-effective on a large scale. Whether it is an implant, prosthetic, pharmaceutical tablets or other items that need to be produced in small quantities, 3D printing could help save a lot of money.

The rapid turnaround time with 3D printing is also a huge bonus. If an item is needed for a medical procedure or to assist in a patient’s rehabilitation, it could take weeks before that item is manufactured. And that is not even considering the high cost of that manufacturing. But with 3D printing, you can “print out” an item cheaply and within hours. And now that the accuracy, repeatability and resolution of 3D printers is improving, the possibilities are almost limitless.

Finally, 3D printing brings about so many possibilities for novelty items and innovation within the industry. In the past, doctors, researchers and scientists would need massive resources to try and create a novelty item for commercial or medical use. But with 3D printing, all that is needed is a printer and imagination!


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