The last few years have revealed what to expect from 3D printed medical devices. From 3D printed hearing aids to surgical tools such as forceps and retractors, the world of three-dimensional printing in healthcare continues to change. Thanks to technology, everything from body organs to implants can be 3D printed.
More recently is the introduction of 3D printed dental implants and a surgical camera in live streaming surgery, which could affect the future of medicine. With new medical tools and gadgets springing up, 3D printing is becoming more accessible and less expensive.
However, aside from the current innovation, what more is there to expect from 3D printing in healthcare? This article answers that question.
3D Printed Medical Devices: Then And Now
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, has its roots in the 1980s. The first documented 3D iteration for replacing missing or non-functioning human parts could be credited to Japan when Hideo Kodama attempted a rapid prototyping system. Although he couldn’t patent the innovation, he’s often regarded as the first inventor of the additive manufacturing system.
Years later, three French developers sought to upgrade the rapid prototyping system. Like Hideo, they couldn’t patent the initiative. The same year, Charles Hull became the first developer to have a patent for building a system that creates 3D models.
Ever since the innovation, several companies and startups have experimented with additive technology. In 2016, the first SLS (selective laser sintering) printer was released to commercial success. CAD (computer-aided design) tools also became generally available.
When the first prosthetic leg was printed in 2016, fiction became a reality, and the medical world finally found a breakthrough to the rising demands for organs and implants.
Today, 3D printers are readily available and the prices are on their record low. This ubiquity has made it possible for everyone to develop different materials for 3D printing. According to a study, 80% of high-tech manufacturers rely on 3D printing for product prototyping.
Features And Benefits Of Modern 3D Printing
Scientists and writers have been toying with the benefits and features of 3D printing for many years. In the final scene of ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ the fourth episode of the Star Wars series released in 1980, Luke Skywalker received a prosthetic hand from a droid. While that was fictional, the world of medicine has indeed realized such fantasy—3D-printed prosthetic hands.
The benefits and features of modern 3D printing include:
3D printing speeds up the prototyping process of additive manufacturing. Today, prototypes of organs and implants can be printed in just a matter of hours. The rapidness is the reason why 3D printing is more preferred to machine prototyping. Aside from the speed, it’s also very cost-effective.
Materials used for 3D printing have evolved. Medical tools and devices can be 3D-printed using steel, acid, titanium, and even chocolate. The material variations have made the design flexible. Also, there are no restrictions to 3D printing compared to traditional printing.
3D printing reduces the wastes of resources. Producing prints only requires materials needed for the part of the production. Instead of relying on chunks of recycled materials, 3D printing uses only what the part needs.
Ease of Access
3D printing is accessible to everyone. The development of new 3D printers affords everyone the opportunity to learn and leverage the innovation. Thanks to favourable government initiatives, you can get a printer and start using it without any restrictions.
Whereas you would need a pass to access 3D printers in the past, today, you only need the willingness to get one. Printers can be bought anywhere and everywhere, and this ensures their cost-effectiveness.
Future Trends Of 3D Printing In Healthcare
The future of 3D printing can be imagined through trends. These trends in healthcare encompass organs, implants, prosthetics, surgical instruments, and other medical devices aimed at the technological future of surgery in operating rooms. Here’s a brief take on how 3D printing changes the game in medicine.
Organs and Implants
In the United States, hundreds of people are waitlisted for organs and implants. These are people who are looking for donors for life-saving organ replacement. However, this trend is about to change with 3D printing. Scientists are working tirelessly to create faster and more efficient 3D-printed kidneys, lungs, and other organs.
The average price to get a set of surgical instruments is about USD$3000 (about GBP£2,200), which is quite expensive. With 3D printing, surgical instruments have become more improved and more cost-effective. Scientists can modify any medical supplies and even have complex ones printed.
Prosthetics And Medical Devices
Why waste time and resources creating prosthetics and medical devices? Due to its rapid prototyping, 3D printing can modify any prosthetic design that could be fitted to humans. In the future, no one would need to depend on donors to get custom prosthetics and devices that work for them.
The idea of 3D printing is age-long, dating back to Japan’s Hideo Kodama. The innovation began with an iteration for replacing human parts. After the development of the first SLS printer, 3D printing has been cost-effective, easily accessible, rapid, flexible, and waste-minimizing.
Banking on the massive modern improvement, 3D printing is poised to replace organs and implants in no time. It also ensures rapid and more efficient alternatives for surgical instruments, prosthetics, and other medical devices. No doubt, 3D printing is changing the game in medicine.
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