Additive manufacturing is gaining popularity in many industries, including the medical sector. With this development, you might be wondering whether you should also invest in additive manufacturing for your medical business. This article will help you make that decision by enlightening you on the pros and cons associated with additive manufacturing for medical devices. Read on to find out more!
Advantages – Additive Manufacturing for Medical Devices
Additive manufacturing enables contract medical device manufacturing companies, including you, to store a medical device’s design on CAD (Computer-Aided Design) files. The digital CAD files allow you to make any changes to the design before producing a prototype. This allows for great flexibility since you can test and design as many times as necessary. Also, there’s less time and resource wastage, unlike conventional manufacturing, where you need to produce several prototypes to get the design right when changes are involved.
With its capabilities, you can custom-make medical equipment for the unique needs of your patients. This also includes aesthetic features. In conventional manufacturing, devices were produced with a universal mindset, more of a one-size-fits-all. This proved difficult since not all patients are the same and have different body shapes, compositions, and needs.
Additive manufacturing also allows for the production of complex medical equipment with unique shapes. This feature is attributed to the use of raw materials with small particles during manufacturing.
With conventional manufacturing, production has to be done in batches. Therefore, if a patient needs a prosthetic and only two orders have been made, they’ll have to wait until there are sufficient orders to allow for production. Alternatively, they’ll have no option but to look for other providers.
3D printing allows you to produce a single unit of any medical device, unlike conventional manufacturing, where making a single unit is uneconomical and close to impossible. This meets the needs of your patients promptly, allowing efficiency and satisfaction.
Allows Room For Analysis
Some medical procedures are complex and require adequate practice before they’re performed. 3D printing makes this process easier by printing enlarged body parts with clear visual features. If the procedure is to be on the arm, the surgeons can design the component and enlarge its size to allow for the visibility of all the veins and vessels found there and then print the prototype. Such a model allows for adequate practice before surgery to make the operation successful.
There are medical devices that doctors can only vet their operation and efficiency after production. Several prototypes have to be made with such devices until the device reaches the required standards. Additive manufacturing allows for the speedy production of these prototypes for quicker certification. The same can’t be said with conventional manufacturing, where prototype designing and production can take weeks to complete. It delays meeting the demand for these devices in the market.
Additive manufacturing allows for the decentralization of medical services. You don’t need to be on the hospital premises to use 3D printing. All you need is the printer itself, a computer, and electricity. This is quite beneficial when offering medical services in remote areas or combat fields with limited facilities. If a patient needs a prosthetic urgently, it can be designed and produced within a day to suit the patient’s exact needs. This allows for greater service delivery.
Disadvantages – Additive Manufacturing for Medical Devices
High Initial Cost
Acquiring additive manufacturing equipment requires much capital. Most medical businesses can barely afford to invest in 3D processing without affecting other operations financially.
It would be even more expensive if you had previously invested and acquired conventional manufacturing equipment, and with the new technology, you want to transition to additive manufacturing.
Based on this, most companies prefer to remain with their conventional methods and outsource additive manufacturing when necessary.
Complex Material Sourcing
The raw materials used in additive manufacturing, plastic, and metal, are hard to outsource. Yes, you can easily find them around your locality, but most of the time, they need to be grounded to small particles for use in 3D printing. This requires a complex procedure, gas atomization, that doesn’t come cheap. Some medical devices will need the particles in specific shapes, such as spheres, to achieve the desired final look. This is challenging to achieve, adding to the cost of sourcing.
Need For Post-Production Polishing
Products, including medical devices, made from additive manufacturing often have a rough finish to their surfaces. This is undesirable for most medical devices. Therefore, after their production, several processes have to be done to ensure the quality of the final product. These products will need sanding, electropolishing, chemical soaks, and many others. Even with 3D printing producing prototypes faster, the post-production processes slow down the manufacturing of these devices in the long run.
Poor Quality Control
3D printing allows for the production of counterfeit goods, which are hard to pinpoint. All that’s needed is the outlook of the original product and knowledge of the raw materials used. With this, a patient might end up purchasing a poor-quality medical device without their knowledge, and it ends up negatively affecting them. This puts a bad image on the company name the counterfeiter used on their goods. This isn’t favorable for any business.
The above points are some of the significant advantages and disadvantages of additive manufacturing for medical devices. With this knowledge, you’re well-informed as you decide if you want to invest in 3D printing or not. However, it’s good to note that the benefits outweigh the risks with a significant margin. Make a wise decision.
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