3D Printing and Disruptive Innovation

The ability to easily create perfectly customized prosthetics that fit each individual patient is an often-touted benefit of 3D printing. 3D printing is seeing tremendous growth in the fabrication of tailored prosthetics, medical implants, novel drug formulations and the bioprinting of human tissues and organs.

3D printing is also referred to as additive manufacturing and is a process in which a layer-by-layer approach is used to build a physical object from a digital file. In this process each subsequent layer bonds onto the previous layer by means of heat and or energy binders. This method enables manufacturing for production in smaller quantities and parts with intricate and complex functions.

One of the major beneficiaries of this technologies is children as the digital modelled designs are easily scalable for the rapid growth spurts in children. Also, they can be readily customized patient-to-patients for aesthetics or functionality.

Over the last 5 years, significant development has occurred in 3D-printing of upper limb prostheses. All over the world people are designing and printing new devices that can easily easy fit a human arm. 

However, some of the challenges that are currently overlooked are the labour cost that remains. The common perception, that 3D printing does not occur with a single touch of a button on the printer. It involves considerable pre and post-processing, which can incur considerable costs. The 3D volume model in order to be printed has to be sliced, in the best possible way to avoid material wastage and also prevent printing errors.

3D printing is already developing into an important disruptive technology. New opportunities will arise when a prosthesis is superior and cheaper than traditional manufacturing process. Further studies are needed to develop 3D printing technology with a focus on simplicity to promote their universal use and breaking down the socio-economic barriers. 3D printing might at the end of the day prove to be the kind of disruptive innovation that launches the field of medicine to a new level.

Ref:

  • Using computed tomography and 3D printing to construct custom prosthetics attachments and devices https://threedmedprint.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s41205-017-0016-1
  • Mills DK (2015) Future Medicine: The Impact of 3D Printing. J Nanomater Mol Nanotechnol 4:3. Mills DK (2015) Future Medicine: The Impact of 3D Printing. J Nanomater Mol Nanotechnol 4:3. Citation: Mills DK (2015) Future Medicine: The Impact of 3D Printing. J Nanomater Mol Nanotechnol 4:3.