3D printing has been around since the beginning of 21 century, but after massive technological advancement in recent times, it has gained its visibility in the commercial front.3D printing in the healthcare sector is expected to grow to $1.97 billion by 2023.

For an average person, a 3D printer is a tool to fabricate simple models or figurines, but 3D printing has much more potential and critical usage in the healthcare industry.0.

3D printers make it possible for medical professionals to provide patients with a new form of treatment. It is used to make new types of surgical cutting tools, drills, prosthetics and creating patient-specific custom made replicas of bones, organs and tissues.

The recent advancement in 3D printing in the healthcare sector has resulted in lighter, stronger and safer products. Now custom parts can be made to meet the needs of specific customers. It improves the understanding between patient and doctor, enhances the comfort of the patient and reduces healing time.

Requirements of 3D Printing in Healthcare

1. Customization

In the healthcare sector, no one solution is right for the masses. That is why 3D printing technology is perfect for this industry. 3D printers can manufacture highly customized prosthetic or orthotic devices that cater to each patient’s anatomy. Thereby reducing the discomfort of the patients and increasing their healing time.

2. Lead time

Tools used in the healthcare industry are sophisticated. They are time-consuming and expensive to manufacture with traditional manufacturing. For critical patient situations, this long lead time can be life-threatening.

With the help of 3D printing devices, designers and engineers can make the tools rapidly.

Not only that, with the help of 3D printing, but it is also easier for designers to change and modify the tools as per the doctor’s feedback and within a couple of hours, 3D printers can iterate a complex tool based on the direct input of the doctors.

This fast feedback loop helps to accelerate design development and the early printed 3D printed parts can be used to support clinical trials.

The production of tools is definitely faster with 3D printing technology, but it is time-consuming to accurately measure and scan the data to produce a printable design.

3. Cost

Healthcare tools and prosthetics require a lot of detailing and accurate measurements. When the process was done with traditional manufacturing, it was time-consuming, and there was a risk of human error associated with it.

3D printing allows the designer to create one or more iteration of the designs before the final print. It helps them to identify potential errors and make the final design perfect. After the digital model is finalized, only then the product is manufactured, thus decreasing the manufacturing cost.

Also, with 3D printing, costly tools and machining processes are not required, and the material wastage is lower in comparison to traditional manufacturing, which reduces the cost.

4. Sterilization

Due to the high risk of infection in the healthcare industry, it is essential to sterilize every tool and tools manufactured with 3D printers are easily sterilizable with materials like PEEK and Ultem.

5. Complexity

With traditional manufacturing, sophisticated designs and organic shapes were hard to create. But with 3D printing, the designs created can be limitless and with the development of new 3D printing raw materials, it is possible to build lightweight and robust body parts that are completely accurate in design.

Application of 3D Printing in Healthcare

1. Medical Devises On-Demand

One of the frequent uses of 3D printing in healthcare is the production of cost-effective and accurate medical devices on demand.  Every type of customized medical equipment can be manufactured with 3D printing.

The equipment is incredibly versatile and cost-effective and can be used as a quick replacement for vital supplies.

For example, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, we see the true potential of 3D printing. When hospitals all around the world are struggling with the lack of respirators, 3D printing technology is used to create vital parts of the respirator.

2. Prosthetics

Another usage of 3D printing in the healthcare industry is in creating prosthetics.

One of the main features of 3D printed prosthetics are these can be custom fitted to the patient. With traditional manufacturing, a custom-fitted prosthetic would take weeks if not months to manufacture. But with the help of additive manufacturing, it can be produced in days.

Not only that, but the benefits of 3D printing also reflect in the cost of manufacturing too. A traditional prosthetic leg can cost around $5000-$50,000. But with 3D printing, the cost of prosthetics is just a fraction of the cost of traditional prosthetics.

3D printed prosthetics are not simple like traditional prosthetics. 3D printed prosthetics can be made with intricate designs, even bionic structure. It gives the user high functionality with a full range of motion like natural limbs. Further developed with IoT technologies will create smart prosthetics, helping those in need throughout the world.

3. 3D Printing Organs

3D printing in the medical field has started to show incredible improvement in organ printing. Recently the world’s first 3D printed lungs were developed by the bioengineers of Rice’s Brown School of Engineering. The structure is created with a 3D printing process called stereolithography process for tissue engineering.

These 3D printed organs are surely in the initial stages, but with the advancement of technology, these organs will be improved in the coming years and will be good alternatives for a patient in need.

4. Dental 3D Printing

3D printing technology is also helping the dental industry by avoiding time-consuming manufacturing and cost. From 3D printed customized braces to 3D printed dentures and crowns, 3D printing is allowing to smoothen the process by avoiding the whole molding process altogether. The dentist can do all the steps by himself, and it will save time and resources for both the dentist and patients.

3D printing technology is already making its way up to the healthcare industry. After the technological advancement, you will see that nearly all medical devices are created with 3D printers in the coming years. Also, advanced 3D printing technologies like organ printing and bionic prosthetic limbs will provide a new lease to millions of lives.