The rate of adoption of 3D printing technology across engineering and manufacturing industries has grown exponentially over the last 3 years, both as a rapid prototyping tool and increasingly for batch production of parts. With this has come increasing developments in 3D printing technology, opening up the technology to more applications and other industries. The medical industry is a perfect example of an industry that is increasingly adopting and reaping the benefits of additive manufacturing technology.
Within the medical and dental fields as the technology advances, there are increasingly more applications and examples of where 3D printing is being used. The benefit of 3D printing in medical applications is that it allows for parts to be manufactured with the complex geometries required for medical use and also for low cost mass customisation and individual personalisation of parts. Allowing parts to be designed and manufactured to provide a custom fit for each individual patient. CAD software is now able to take the imagery from CT and MRI scans and convert them into precise 3D models that can be used to design custom medical parts.
Examples of medical applications of 3D printing
- Cranial Implants
- Dental Implants
- Bone alignment plates and pins
- Drilling guides for surgery
- Surgery planning models
- Medical training models
Medical Device 3D Printing
Medical devices are becoming smaller, more expensive to assemble, and used more commonly with collaborative robotics. Miniaturization, the cost of assembly, and the complexity of designing tools for diagnostic and surgical robots are just some of the challenges that today’s medical device designers face. That’s where medical device 3D printing comes into play.
BMF’s Projection Micro Stereolithography (PµSL) technology can 3D print medical devices with ultra-high resolution, accuracy and precision. PµSL can 3D print true microstructures with ultra-high printing resolution (2µm~50µm) and printing tolerance (+/- 10µm ~ +/- 25µm).
The example above shows a 3D printed cardiovascular stent, these are implanted in the coronary artery to improve blood flow to the heart and by their very nature need to be very small, high resolution, smooth and flexible 3D prints. Here are the specs for this stent:
- Printer Model – BMF microArch P140
- Dimensions – 15.44mm x 3.42mm
- Resolution – 10 mm
- Tolerance – ±0.025mm
- Features – flexible materials, rapid fabrication of complex structures
The Future of Medical 3D Printing
As research and technology continues to move forward and the medical industry and hospitals become more aware of the capabilities of the technology, 3D printing will be adopted more widely both by medical suppliers and by doctors and technicians working in the front line medical organisations.
Research advancements will ultimately lead to many more applications such as further development of 3D bioprinting where cells, nutrients and biomaterials are used to 3D print biomedical parts that maximally imitate natural tissue characteristics. Ultimately researchers hope to develop 3D printed replacement organs, however this is still in the development stage with much more research to be conducted before this becomes a reality.
Another advancement is the use of 3D printing technology to 3D print custom drugs where the dose of a drug can be personalised to each patient’s requirements and pills containing several different drugs customised into a single pill for to meet individuals medication requirements.
One thing is for certain, 3D printing in the medical industry is definately here to stay and we look forward to observing how the research, the technology and the medical applications of additive manufacturing develop over the coming years.
In The Classroom
The use of 3D printing and bioprinting technology in the medical industry is a valuable addition to any careers education program as it can direct students to jobs within this industry that they may have never considered before. The CREATE Education 3D printing careers resources, outline some of these applications.
Also available, to bring a real-life experience into the classroom, is our Cranial Implant Project in which students are tasked to design a custom cranial implant to fit a fixed hole in the skull of a car accident victim. This project can also be used as a STEM day activity, as illustrated with the I love 3D printing STEM Careers event attended by several groups of Year 8 students.