Evolution of 3D Printing in the Medical Industry

By TriMech on

When we talk about 3D printing, we often highlight its benefits in traditional manufacturing for prototypes, jigs, fixtures, end of arm tooling, etc. While these are all great applications, additive processes have benefits in every industry. In this article, we focus on 3D printing in the medical industry and showcase a few areas where additive has helped reshape the field and continues to provide a lasting impact.

Medical Devices

Everything from blood sugar monitors to organ transfer equipment for emergency transplants go through hundreds of revisions and rigorous testing before being put out in the field. There is a need to rapidly produce prototypes that can withstand functional testing as well as have a good fit and finish to better help in the design validation process. Utilizing Stratasys FDM, PolyJet, and P3 technology, clients can create those prototypes and functional models.

At the University of California, San Francisco’s DeRisi Lab, scientists investigate viruses and parasites whose victims range from tiny insects to large populations of humans. The lab has researched malaria drugs, identified bee viruses, and released software that assembles viral genomes. One of the issues they run into is obtaining fixtures to hold various samples for observation under a microscope or running through a centrifuge. By utilizing FDM printing, they can create the custom fit fixtures at a fraction of the cost without needing to rely on an outside supplier.

3D Medical Component

Example of a centrifuge created using FDM technology

>> Infographic: Designing for Medical Devices

Surgical Models

Traditionally, surgical models are made from silicone, which does not have the same feel and feedback of human tissue. They are usually standard anatomy, meaning surgeons don’t have a 1:1 representation of their patient’s anatomy. The J850 Digital Anatomy Printer (DAP) solves this problem. By creating voxel structuring using DAP specific materials, the model has the same feel as real human bone and tissue. A voxel is like a 3D pixel, it’s the smallest area in which a PolyJet machine can dispense resin. Being able to control the softness and rigidness on such a small level allows the parts to achieve their feel of real anatomy. These structures are auto generated, so all a doctor must do is take in their segmented anatomy, import into GrabCAD Print and assign the desired anatomy to the areas they would like. The custom surgical models help the surgeons better analyze a patient’s anatomy before they go in for surgery. This tool helps the surgeon plan, but also helps them walk patients through the surgery details, giving the patient a sense of understanding and confidence. 

medical 3D printing

While being able to create patient-specific anatomy using the J850 Digital Anatomy is a huge benefit, another benefit is the reduction in cadaver use. A cadaver is a deceased body (usually human or pig) that is used to test various types of surgical and medical devices. Not only is the ethics of cadaver testing a concern, but there is a huge cost to obtain, store and dispose of them correctly. The realism and functionality achieved with PolyJet prints is eliminating the need for them. The models for surgical preparations, procedure training, and visualization can all be 3D printed. The advanced anatomical models can be created with a variety of medical specific materials that mimic the appearance, texture, and composition properties of biological components. RadioMatrix, BoneMatrix, TissueMatrix, and GelMatrix are unique printer settings and materials used for the following applications: CAT scan imaging, bones with varying densities, tissue type simulation, and testing blood vessel channel flow.

3D printed model of hand 3D printed model hand

Dental Applications

Dental labs specializing in dental cases use skilled craftsman to create the cases and models. Dental machines such as the Stratasys J5 Dentajet are replacing the tedious traditional hand clay up molds and dental castings with custom 3D printed parts. The accuracy of prints, speed, and efficiency mean less down and in-chair time for dental offices and their patients. The Dentajet can produce up to 46 implant cases and 87 crown and bridge cases per day. The applications range from implantology, orthodontics, removables to crown and bridge components. Our article on dental materials goes in depth about what’s available.

3D printing for dental

Development Adaptability

During the 2020 pandemic personal protection equipment (PPE) was in short supply. The material chains were disrupted and Origin P3 3D printing technology was adaptable. With a machine running 3 shifts a day, 800 swabs were created every day, for a total of over half a million in just under eight weeks. The nasal swabs were designed with an open lattice structure at the top to capture specimens for testing. Product development, geometrical boundaries, and iterations were achieved quickly in medical grade materials.

Bioprinting

Bioprinting is the processing of additively generating tissue through printing with cells. While still in its early stages, it is becoming an ever-growing area in the medical industry. Bioprinting works the same as a more typical additive process. But where a typical process uses plastics or resins, bioprinting uses “bio-inks” which are filled with different types of cells. These printed cell structures are then left to grow in an incubator before final use. The main application today is in use for skin grafts for burn patients, but we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible with bioprinting. We may see bioprinting make huge advancements in drug production and the creation of artificial organs in the future.

The medical industry is booming and the addition of various additive technologies, like the Stratasys J850 Digital Anatomy, is only going to accelerate the boom. These advancements not only help drive costs down and help products come out faster, but they also help potentially saving lives in the process. As the medical industry continues to evolve, additive will be there to evolve with it.

Want to learn more about medical 3D printing and how it is having an impact on patient care? Join our upcoming webinar!