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3D Printing In Medical: What Is It? And Why Is It Important?

3D printing in medical field introduces personalized treatments and improves quality of patient cares. Additive manufacturing is now utilized by medical professionals to develop new surgical guides, orthopedic implants, and prosthetics as well as the customized replicas of tissues, bones and organs.

healthcare professional custom made a wrist brace for injury rehabilitation process with 3D printing

Credit: Tom Claes on Unsplash

Table of Contents

  1. What is 3D printing?

  2. Benefits of 3D printing in medical field

  3. Medical applications of 3D printing

  4. How does 3D printing works?

  5. How to choose the right 3d printing material for medical applications?

  6. Regulations for medical 3D printing

  7. How to get started with medical 3D printing?

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing is a process of creating a physical object from a three-dimensional digital file. The objects are built by laying down successive layers of raw materials such as metals, plastics, and ceramics.

3d printing process

Credit: Tom Claes on Unsplash

Since objects are made by addition of material, 3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing (AM).

The trend of using 3D printing in different industries has risen due to the rapid development of technology. In 2019, the global 3D printing market grew to over $10.4 billion, and was predicted to double in size every 3 years with the annual growth varying between 18.2% and 27.2%, forecasted by 3D Hubs.

global 3d printing market size and prediction

Global 3D printing market size and prediction. Source: Autonomous Manufacturing

3D printing technique has been applied to many different industries:

  • Medicine

Patient-specific cranial implant made by 3D printing

Patient-specific cranioplasty implant made by 3D printing. Credit: 3D Natives

At a rapidly growing rate, 3D printing in medical field is recognized as one of the highest potential markets in the future. 3D printing is now used to develop new surgical guides, orthopedic implants, and prosthetics as well as the customized replicas of bones, organs, and blood vessels.

  • Architecture

architecture model created by 3d printing

Architecture model made by 3D printing. Credit:

3D printing offers a fast, easy and economical alternative to produce highly detailed concept models that help architects and clients to visualize the design. The models can be simply produced by 3D CAD, BIM or other design software that architects typically use.

  • Jewelry

3d printed jewelry

3D printing can reproduce complex features which are difficult to hand carve. Credit: Formlabs

Not only does 3D printing allow more design freedom, it also simplifies the steps and reduces production time over traditional handcrafted method. More and more jewelry designers now prefer to 3D model and print their designs over conventional ones.

3D printing is also widely applied in the following industries:

  • Art/ Sculpture/ Design

  • Automotive

  • Fashion

  • Aerospace

  • Education

Benefits of 3D Printing in Medical Field

Personalized Healthcare

production process for 3D printed customized wearables

Shapeshift production process for customized wearables. Credit: 3D Natives

With recent technology and material advance, 3D printing allows for the design and print of more complex designs and material options than conventional manufacturing method. Healthcare professionals can now easily create customized medical tools and implants that are perfectly adapted to a patient’s anatomy, or a specific surgery.

The better fit of prosthetics and implants can drastically reduce the chance of infection, provide pain-free functions and speed up the recovery process.

Fast Design and Production

Traditional prosthetics and implants can take weeks to design and manufacture, especially if they are custom made for a patient.

With 3D printing techniques, healthcare professionals can design and print the object in-house on a professional 3D printer within a few days (and sometimes even less), which is much faster than molded or machine parts.

This could significantly reduce patients’ waiting time and lower the chances of complications that may occur as a result of delayed or unavailable medical devices.

Increase Cost Efficient

3D printing provides patients with affordable tailor-made prostheses and implants that are so expensive in traditional manufacturing processes. There is also no need to make any specialized tooling, jigs or fixtures, and there are no minimum volume requirements.

The entire process – from scanning, to 3D modeling and printing – can be performed simply by a single person and an inexpensive desktop 3D printer, saving time, labor, and money.

Medical Applications of 3D Printing

Dental Products

3d printed dental products

Dentures made by 3D printing. Credit: Formlabs

3D printing is ideal for customized dental treatments like dentures, surgical guides dental implants, and orthodontic appliances such as braces and aligners, that perfectly match a patient’s anatomy.

Instead of relying on laboratories to mold and create tools, dentists and orthodontists can now prepare, scan, and print the implants/ tools with 3D printer on-site, saving time and money.

Custom-made Prosthetics

exo 3d printed leg prosthesis

3D Printed leg prosthetics. Credit: 3D Printing Industry

Prostheses created using traditional manufacturing methods are expensive and may not necessarily built to specifications, resulting in patient discomfort or pain. If a patient does need a custom prosthesis, it will be even more expensive and time-consuming.

Using 3D printing, medical professionals can speed up the production process significantly, at the same time, create much affordable prostheses that closely tailored to patient’s exact need.

Bioprinting Tissues and Organoids

bio-printed heart, ear and cornea

Bioprinted heart (left), ear (top right) and corneas (bottom right). Credit: 3D Natives

Rather than using metals or plastics, bioprinting use living cells, also known as bio-ink, to create artificial living tissues.

While bioprinting cannot yet be used to 3D print body parts, this technology is already being used to fabricate relatively simple artificial tissues and structures such as cartilage, cornea, skin, bone and blood vessels. This could provide a better way of studying certain diseases and testing new drugs and therapies.

In 2019, a team of Israeli researchers bioprinted a miniature human heart with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and cavities.

In the near future, bioprinting will be able to produce organs and tissues eligible for transplantation and regenerative surgery.

Surgical Instruments

stainless steel surgical tools such as forceps, scalpel handles and hemostats 3d printed by surgeons

Surgical instruments including forceps, scalpel handles and hemostats can be 3D printed on-site by surgeons. Credit: RapidMade

Complexity of each operation varies; and the hands of every surgeons are different. So why should surgeons be confined to standardized surgical instruments?

3D printing provides an inexpensive and timely alternative for surgeons to customize surgical tools specific to their needs and operations. With tools that will better fit the unique situation, surgeons can work with increased precision and efficiency.

Related article: 7 Stunning Use Cases For 3D Printing In Medical Field

How does 3D printing work?

There are three most established types of 3D printing: Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and Stereolithography (SLA). Each method has its unique benefits and is suitable for different applications.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)