In the current century, with the advent of technological revolution in medicine, our approach to solving healthcare challenge is constantly changing. Today, many medical device ventures constantly bring to market many new gadgets that can be used to better our general well being. Physicians are constantly using these devices to better our general health condition. They are able to diagnose health issues faster and find a better solution to manage them.
Medical Device Manufactures today are constantly using different methods to create quality products, which have a significant impact on the general health of the people. However, these products have a longer time span to come to the market from the point of bench side manufacturing to bedside clinical management of patients. One of the tools, which we can use to expedite the process, is 3D printing technology.
3D printing has revolutionized the manufacturing process, as it uses an Additive process of manufacturing. Unlike the conventional method of manufacturing which uses the subtractive process, which increases the wastage and also the time span to produce a medical device are longer. One of the main challenges of using the custom-built devices for the patient is the cost of production, in the conventional model of manufacturing, these costs can be prohibitive due to scaling issues. But with 3D printing, the costs could be lowered, as the only major cost is the material costs of printing. And the timeline to produce the device is shorter.
However, 3D printing technologies involve the computer-aided design of the product, followed by model development by layer printing process.3D printers are used to manufacture a variety of medical devices, either with complex geometry or features which are specific to an individual patient or a generalized product devices which are printed from a standard design to make multiple copies of the same device.
Commercially available 3D printed devices include
- Instrumentation guides which assist with proper surgical placement of devices.
- Implants in the body
- External prosthesis for the upper limb or lower limb.
Patient-specific devices use the image-guided data from patients anatomy, Patient matching can be done by scaling of the device using one or more anatomic features from patient data.
Despite the many advantages of 3D printing technology, there are several challenges in terms of reality projection, for eg organ printing is still in experimental stage, and the reality of these coming to mainstream in the near future is not guaranteed with the current state of 3D printing technology. Regulatory barriers are also another challenge with 3D printing technology, some of the medical devices have received a 501(K) approval from FDA in the United States, but for more mainstream applications in the medical field, it will be complex and longer time duration to get full approval from different regulatory bodies around the globe.
As 3D printing continues to expand, researchers continue to improve medical applications of exciting medical devices and explore new ones. The medical advances that have been made using 3D printing are already significant and exciting, but some of the more revolutionary applications in 3D printing will need time before it can be a reality.