What Is Medical Additive Manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is useful in a variety of industries—and it’s starting to draw more interest from healthcare professionals as a means of improving understanding and treatment of various medical conditions. For example, doctors can manufacture products matching a patient’s knee, spine, or shoulder joint to help them accurately plan a surgery. They can also create orthotics and prosthetics that are perfectly suited for the people who need them. Advancing technology is making medical additive manufacturing accessible and cost-effective, and opening up a world of possibilities that will enhance healthcare.

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How Is Additive Manufacturing Used in Healthcare?

Medical additive manufacturing in action; spine being 3d printedThe FDA has reviewed more than 100 products that were made by additive manufacturing, most of which are medical devices. It offers several benefits for the medical industry. Additive manufacturing is an ideal way to create high-precision tolerances and complex geometries. For example, you can create a joint replacement complete with the porous structure required to encourage proper integration with the body’s natural tissue.

While other manufacturing techniques may require separate construction of multiple pieces, which then have to somehow be put together to create the desired result, additive manufacturing allows you the opportunity to create a product as one component, depending on the application. In the joint replacement example, this eliminates the weak area that would be found at a joint that was bonded, screwed, or even welded together. Additive manufacturing also offers faster time-to-market, reduced cost-to-market, and flexibility to make design changes to match the product to the patient’s anatomy such as, cranial implants, dental restorations, and joint replacements. There is no need to build complex molds or specialized tools, which saves significant time and money, as well as reduces the risk of error in production manufacturing. Point of care medical devices, from anatomical models to surgical guides, can be printed at the medical facility with the technology available today.

Titanium and biocompatible resins are common materials used in medical additive manufacturing, especially in surgical tools and in hip, knee, spine, and extremity applications due to their biocompatibility, safety, and mechanical properties. 3D printed implants made from titanium and resins are gaining traction in the industry, as they are easier to produce and customize, reaching a wider range of patients with rare conditions that may not have been able to use mass-produced medical implants for their needs.

The Future of Additive Manufacturing in the Medical Field

medical additive manufacturing creating 3D printed teeth model

In 2010, there were only three hospitals in the United States that had their own additive manufacturing facility. By 2019, there were more than 100, and that number continues to grow. Advances in this technology are making it more cost-effective, and more healthcare professionals are recognizing the advantages of printing their own medical devices at will.

Medical additive manufacturing won’t stop at prosthetics and surgical guides. In 2015, the FDA approved a specially formulated 3D-printed drug for epilepsy treatment, and ongoing research may pave the way for more special formulations. That may include polypills, or customized treatments that combine multiple drugs or ingredients in one pill, so patients don’t have to take multiple pills at various times of the day, or it may enable pharmaceutical manufacturers to create medicines that the body absorbs more quickly (or more slowly) to better regulate a dosage. Researchers are also experimenting with bioprinters to use additive manufacturing to create actual tissue for skin grafts and organs.

Medical additive manufacturing could one day completely change healthcare as we know it. Imagine the possibilities if a doctor could print a new liver for someone, rather than putting that patient on a waitlist for an organ donor. The lifesaving and life-enhancing potential of medical additive printing is enormous, and ongoing research is getting closer to making these possibilities a reality.

For over 20 years HARBEC has been at the forefront of additive 3D printing, technology, and manufacturing. As a high-value partner for R&D, engineering, and NPD teams, we offer extensive expertise and experience in additive manufacturing of medical devices, ranging from implants to microfluidics. Our fully integrated capabilities and customer centric approach provides value and optimal results. As a turnkey contract manufacturer, we can help from prototype to full production and we are able to tackle the most challenging requirements without sacrificing quality, taking your idea from concept to product all under one roof. Please contact us at mark.piccirilli@harbec.com for more information or request a quote.

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