3D Printing in the Medical Field
3D printing has undergone continuous development ever since it was invented in the 1980s. It has increasingly influenced the health care field, due to its potential to improve treatment and to assist the caregivers in the management of many medical conditions.
3D printing is an additive manufacturing technique that creates three-dimensional objects by building successive layers of raw material (such as metal, plastic, and more).
The objects are produced from a digital file, rendered from the patient’s data (MRI/CT/US) or a computer-aided design (CAD) drawing, which allows the designer to easily make changes or adapt the product as desired.
Medical Uses of 3D Printing
Three-dimentional anatomical imaging
Creating a 3D model from the data of the patient allows the clinicians to observe the patient’s condition in a very intuitive way.
The segmentation process means taking CT/MRI/US imaging and forming it into a 3D model using designated software. The 3D model can then be edited with CAD tools. The 3D digital model can then be viewed on the computer screen or through virtual reality (VR) devices, or fabricated to a physical object with 3D printing.
Thus, the clinician can have a better understanding of the relevant medical condition and/or the pathology.
Patient specific assisting devices
In creating patient assisting devices, such as prostheses and splints, there is great importance in accurate and seamless compatibility to the patient’s unique features.
The ability to take the patient’s data from a 3D scan, or from medical imaging, can assure maximum compatibility between the anatomical surface to the medical assisting device.
Moreover, the external part of the device can be tailor-made for the use that is planned. For example, a training splint that works on flexion of the tendons, or a prosthesis with a beer opener at its end.
Aiding devices for medical procedures
From simulation models for practicing complex surgeries, through 3D-printed molds for adjusting medical tools, 3D printing can assist the clinicians in efficient planning and personalized treatment of patients.
Today it is possible to 3D print medical implants from biocompatible materials that are suited for insertion to the body, such as titanium, PEEK, carbon and even silicon.
The use of customized implants during procedures allows maximal adaptation to the patient’s physical needs.
In addition, it allows for a better compatibility of the implant to the patient’s anatomy and to the surgical tools used during the procedure.
Prototyping for medical devices development
Rapid prototyping is one of the best uses of 3D printing, and it emphasizes an important advantage of this technology during the design process. Developing medical devices is an iterative process. The ability to examine ideas in a dynamic environment, to check several versions and to make changes easily (and test them again… and again…) potentially has great influence on the product development process. Using 3D printing, it is possible to produce iterations of the models until reaching the final and satisfactory result.