Additive Manufacturing refers to a process by which digital 3D (Three Dimensional) design data is used to build up a component in layers by depositing material. Additive Manufacturing is now being used increasingly in series production, it gives original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the most varied sectors of industry the opportunity to create a distinctive profile for themselves based on new customer benefits, cost-saving potential and the ability to meet sustainability goals.
The strengths of Additive Manufacturing lie in those areas where conventional manufacturing reaches its limitations. The technology is of interest where a new approach to design and manufacturing is required so as to come up with solutions. It enables a design-driven manufacturing process – where design determines production and not the other way around. What is more, Additive Manufacturing allows for highly complex structures which can still be extremely light and stable.
Medical technology is one of the most important pioneer industries of additive manufacturing. Meanwhile, additive manufacturing has also found its way into medical technology in the mass production of standard implants. The individualization and perfect fit of products, geometric freedom during production and a long service life play a decisive role. Other requirements placed on products include high mechanical loads, specific elasticity and bio-compatibility. Products for the industry need to support patients in the healing process in a meaningful way; help them gain mobility and improve the quality of their lives. Optimum patient care in orthopedics, implantology and dentistry demands high-precision, perfectly fitting medical products.
Application of Additive Manufacturing to Medicine
Some of the most incredible uses of 3D printing are developing within the medical field. Some of the following ways this futuristic technology is being developed for medical use might sound like a Michael Crichton novel, but are fast becoming a reality.
Application in Hearing Aids
According to Phil Reeves, author of a report on the 3D printing industry, in 2013 there were more than 10,000,000 3-D printed hearing aids in circulation worldwide. Much more are in use today. 3D Printing transformed the manual labor-intensive industry into an automated one that is fast and patient-oriented. Before the introduction of 3D printing into this domain, manufacturing of hearing aids looked like a kind of artisanal production; it took more than a week. Today the 3D printing process that involves scanning, modeling and printing can take less than a day.
Applications of 3D printing in Dentistry
Today, by combining oral scanning, CAD/CAM design and 3D printing, dental labs can accurately and rapidly produce crowns, bridges, plaster/stone models, and a range of orthodontic appliances such as surgical guides and aligners. Instead of uncomfortable impressions, a 3D scan is taken, which is later transformed into a 3D model and sent to be 3D printed. The printed model can be used to create a full range of orthodontic appliances, delivery and positioning trays, clear aligners and retainers. There are numerous new 3D printers for dental and orthodontic labs.
Application in Prostheses
3D printed prostheses can be customized according to individual taste and cost much less than traditional alternatives. The limb can also be re-designed to be more stylish with added tattoos and patterns. In addition, they are more comfortable than the traditional prostheses and can be manufactured in a day. Low costs of the 3D printed limb prostheses are especially important in prosthetics for children, since they outgrow the prostheses fast. Moreover, stretchable and expandable 3D prosthetics may soon be available for children that could “grow” with the child. One can find on the Internet “DIY” assistive devices that can be printed by virtually anyone, anywhere. Taking into account the high cost of the traditional prostheses, this leads to a revolution disrupting the prosthesis market.
Application in Implants, excluding dental ones and those used in hearing aids
Today several manufacturers produce high-quality replacements/implants for spine, hip, pelvis, trachea, 75% of a man’s skull, and other body parts. In 2014, the company 4WEB 3-D printed and implanted 3000 spinal truss systems. The implants are patient-specific, as concerns their size and shape which are determined on the basis of medical imaging data such as X-ray for bones, Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), for bone, soft tissue, and blood vessels respectively. The customization of the 3D printed implants to the patient represents a true personalization. 3D printed implants have also been applied in the treatment of such illnesses as diabetes and arthritides.
Application in Virtual Surgical Planning and for Teaching Medical Students/ Resident
Imaging techniques are important in medical practice. The introduction of 3D printing brings an essential improvement in surgical planning. Computed tomography (CT) or MRI images lead to a detailed picture of how internal organs and anatomical parts are. The 3D printed replicas reproduce the size, weight and texture of organs, allowing surgeons to rehearse complicated procedures on 3D models. The Japanese company Stratasys developed a Biotexture Wet Model realistically mimicking such organs as lungs that allows surgeons and students to practice the operations to be carried out beforehand. Today, planning a surgery with the help of 3D printed models is a widely used procedure. To name but a few, it has assisted full face transplants, the first adult-to-child kidney transplant, removal of a kidney or liver tumor in hospitals, and acetabula (the socket of the hip bone, into which the head of the femur fits) reconstructive surgery.
Application in Medical Devices
The number of 3D printed medical devices is enormous and is growing steadily. They include:
- An inexpensive high quality stethoscope which was developed for poor hospitals in the Gaza Strip
- A 3D printed winch used in Endovenous Laser Therapy (EVLT) for the treatment of varicose vein removal which is presented by the Polish company Zortrax on YouTube
- A Multi-Sensory Perception Simulator device developed by the Center for Hearing and Speech in Kajetany
- And glass frames or 3D printed lenses you can order or 3D print yourself
Application in Bioprinting (Printing Living Tissue using Cells as Ink)
The main future target of 3D bioprinting is to reduce the shortage of supply in the organ donor market. The recently announced possibility of bioprinting using stem cells opens new possibilities in this domain. The world’s first ever “thaw and use” human mesenchymal stem cells bioink is offered by the Swedish startup company Cellink and the American stem cell company RoosterBio. Feasible and standardized materials, such as cell-friendly biomaterials are prerequisites of the 3D bioprinting applications.
Application in printing Drugs
Extending their idea on the applications of 3D printing in chemistry, Lee Cronin’s group a company that is focused on pharmaceutical discovery and manufacturing process applied their 3D printed reactionware (Custom-built laboratory container (labware) that test chemical reactions because the reagents are built into the container material) to print the drug ibuprofen. The first 3D printed drug, Sprintam (levetiracetam, for epilepsy treatment), produced and marketed by Aprecia Pharmaceuticals, has obtained U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. 3D printing enables very porous pills to be manufactured, allowing for high drug doses in a single pill. Such a pill dissolves quickly and can be ingested easily.
The Nigerian government, being a developing nation, still grapples with the challenge of meeting the needs of its citizens in various sectors where application of 3D technology promises vast solution to some inherent problems.
3D-printed prosthetics are already being used as an alternative to handmade limbs as fitting of 3D printed limbs are easier and not time consuming as traditionally manufactured prosthetic limbs. Therefore 3D Printing provides an easier, faster and cheaper approach to deal with the prosthetic needs in Nigeria. Hence, 3D printing will be a convenience in a country where healthcare services struggle to keep up with its demand coupled with the high costs of medical care.
You can learn how to create 3D models using CATIA by clicking here. This course has been designed by the author of this article.
This article was written by Shimei Alexander.
3D Design Engineer at Brainiacs STEM & Robotics.
- Institute of Physical Chemistry PAS, Warsaw, Poland
- Dodziuk H. Application of 3D Printing in Healthcare.
- Carsten ENGEL R&D Biomedical Engineer. Sirris Additive Manufacturing, sirris.be