Additive manufacturing for medical technology and healthcare industries

The medical technology (MedTech) industry has been recognised for its widespread application of 3D printing as far back as 2012. Today, the MedTech industry remains a major adopter of 3D printing to support its manufacturing initiatives. This increased adoption rate of 3D printing by medical device manufacturers is why the CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of the industry with respect to additive manufacturing continues to grow at a pace of 16.1%.

This encouraging statistic highlights the growing importance of 3D printing to healthcare and the relationship being built. One major reason why additive manufacturing for the medical community continues to grow is that the capabilities of additive manufacturing align with the requirements of its MedTech industry.


The needs of MedTech and how additive manufacturing supports them

The healthcare industry relies on customisation to ensure medical devices serve the needs of individual patients optimally. Thus, mass-producing most MedTech devices such as orthoses, dental crowns and other supportive devices is not recommended because every patient comes with different needs. This unique position makes using the average milling, cutting or CNC machine an expensive proposition for manufacturing singular devices.

The size and complexity of MedTech devices also fit the capabilities of additive manufacturing. Surgical implants and hearing aids are examples of small medical devices with design complexities that have proven to be time-consuming and costly to produce using conventional manufacturing methods. The need for customisable, complex solutions or devices which are relatively small plays directly into the hands of additive manufacturing and the 3D printer.

3D printing provides all the necessary features to manufacture custom-fit products. These features include the diverse material options it supports, its ability to accurately reproduce 3D models, and its compact build volume. Additive manufacturing for the medical industry ensures complex equipment such as ventricular assist devices (VADs) with multiple components, a small-size and limited demand can be produced without much concern about the financial returns. On the other hand, manufacturing a VAD with a CNC machine is an expensive initiative and a time-consuming proposition.

Another example of how additive manufacturing suits the medical industry is in bone setting. The conventional process involved the use of plaster of Paris or casts made from fibre to set the broken bone. These conventional methods have proven to be uncomfortable to many patients because of the lack of access they create. Also, on removing casts, the skin may show signs of infection due to the extended period for which the cast is worn.

The application of additive manufacturing for the medical industry provides solutions to the challenges orthopaedics face by facilitating the setting of broken bones in a number of ways. One option is the use of multiple thermoplastic polymers to 3D print custom casts. These materials are waterproof and are not susceptible to getting waterlogged if the user takes a bath.

The second is the 3D printing of exoskeletons with meshes that allow the affected limb to breathe or take in air. 3D printing also enables the creation of  innovative assemblies to take care of broken limbs, as the Osteoid medical cast shows. The 3D-printed cast can be equipped with a low-intensity pulsed ultrasound which speeds up the healing process by approximately 38% when applied.

The manufacturing of medical instruments and kits also provides multiple opportunities for additive manufacturing to be applied. This is due to the relatively small size of the instruments used and advancement in additive manufacturing technologies. One example is the use of a metal 3D printer to 3D print surgical equipment and kits in field surgical settings. In situations where the availability of medical supplies may be limited, 3D printing these instruments ensures medical personnel do not lack the tools they need to work with.


Additional benefits of additive manufacturing for the medical industry

The use cases highlighted in this post cite some of the major benefits in detail, but other important value propositions of additive manufacturing in the medical industry include:

  • Rapid prototyping and production – Additive manufacturing is a much quicker process when compared to other conventional manufacturing processes. This is due to the manufacturing technology of building layer upon layer, unlike subtractive manufacturing technologies. Thus, with 3D printing, MedTech enterprises can take products to market quicker.
  • Cost-effective for the MedTech industry – 3D printing reduces the challenges conventional methods face with manufacturing complex and small devices. The 3D printer also accomplishes the task of customising devices using fewer materials, with less power and within a reduced timeline. This makes it more cost-effective for manufacturing MedTech devices.

These benefits ensure the rate at which additive manufacturing is used in the medical industry continues to grow.

To learn more about the applications of additive manufacturing, contact the Kingsbury team today.

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