5 Applications Of 3D Printing in the Healthcare Industry

Updated on March 25, 2022

The medical industry is becoming more personalized and precise. With the development of new and advanced tools and technology, patients are getting better, affordable, and more customized treatments ensuring fast recovery.

Among so many technologies, 3D printing has been contributing to the medical industry a lot. According to reports, the medical 3D printing market has a value of around $973 million, which is expected to rise to approximately $3.7 billion by 2026. 3D printing in the medical field will reach a growth rate of 17.7% between 2017 and 2025.

3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing as it creates a 3D structure by the successive placing of raw materials into layers. 3D printers attach a new layer to the previous layer to form the final object. The printers take instructions from a 3D digital file, either a CAD drawing or MRI. 3D printing technology is quite flexible, and designers can create complex medical devices that match patient’s anatomy

3D printing technology has vast applications in healthcare. From surgical planning to 3D-designed bioreactors and vasculature, this new technology gives the healthcare industry new prospects. Read on further to know how 3D printing offers new ways to design, test, and create medical products.

3D printed medical devices and instruments:

Rapid prototyping and 3D printing have become synonyms. Medical product development has become convenient with easy-to-use and affordable 3D printing techniques. 

3D printing techniques can design even complex medical prototypes in days instead of weeks. Almost 90 percent of the top 50 medical companies use 3D printing to create medical devices. 

Medical industry designs sterile surgical instruments like hemostats, scalpel handles, clamps, and forceps using 3D printers. Some 3D printing techniques are based on the ancient Japanese origami practice that creates very small and precise products. Doctors and surgeons can use these instruments on patients without causing any unnecessary damage to the patient’s body. 

The best part of designing these instruments with 3D printing is that designers can modify the designs based on the surgeons’ feedback. There is no need to make repetitive alterations to the design files before sending them to the production sites. Also, the process of designing is not only fast but cost-effective too.

Additionally, the 3D printed medical devices do not produce any waste as surgeons follow the print-on-demand model. In this way, they can get desired tools only when needed instead of stocking up large quantities.

3D printed affordable prostheses:

Prosthetic limbs are in high demand in the medical industry. The traditional manufacturing methods involve expensive casting and recasting methods to fit patients’ anatomy. The amputees had to wait for weeks and months to get prosthetics through these conventional methods. Also, they had to pay $5000 to $50,000 for those prosthetics.

However, 3D printing methods can create prosthetic limbs that quickly suit and are fit for the patients. The custom-fit 3D printed prosthesis copy the motions and the grips of the actual limbs with the help of muscles in the residual limbs. Such customized prosthetics promote the independent movement of the patients. Also, the process is fast and gives products that are more functional and cheaper than the traditionally developed prosthetics. Another advantage of 3D printed prosthetics is that they are much lighter yet stronger due to their materials. 

An online community named e-NABLE developed the first 3D printed prosthetic limb of a bionic hand with the help of designs from American artist Ivan Owen. After this, the trend took off, and now the medical industry is developing patient-specific and customized body parts that include individual fingers, toes, and limbs.

3D printed medical PCBs

The use of printed circuit boards in the medical industry is growing and vast. Nowadays, almost every medical device, a pacemaker, defibrillator, heart monitor, medical imaging system, MRIs, ultrasonic equipment, or CT scans use medical printed circuit boards. In 2022, the market for medical electronics is expected to reach $4.4 billion. 

Most medical devices are very small, and some of them we even use at our homes, such as glucose and body temperature monitors. These tiny devices require internal circuits to be very small, and thus, there is a need to develop high-density interconnected PCBs. Apart from this, medical professionals also select flex and rigid-flex PCBs for their critical medical devices. 

The traditional methods of prototyping and manufacturing such complex PCBs are quite lengthy and expensive. However, 3D printing is revolutionizing the era of PCB manufacturing in the medical industry. The additive manufacturing technique helps to create complex PCB designs with intricate internal wiring. Further, 3D printing can develop customized and personalized PCBs that take less time and incurs less cost than traditional PCB manufacturing methods. 

3D printing in surgery preparation

The current medical industry offers customized treatments in surgical procedures. These treatments are possible with the 3D printed anatomical models prepared through patient scan data. These patient-specific organ models allow surgeons and research organizations to use them as reference tools. These tools help surgeons make plans before the operation, ensure correct sizing and pre-fitting of any medical equipment and visualize the intraoperative procedures.

With the help of these preoperative visualizations and analyses, the operating procedures’ time and cost are greatly reduced. 3D printed models for surgery preparation have become a common practice, and surgeons and medical teams are using these models from simple to complex medical procedures.

Bioprinting and 3D printed organs

Organ failure in patients is becoming a common problem around the world. The treatment of the same lies in using autografts. Autografting requires placing a tissue graft from one location to another in the same individual or organ transplant from a donor person. However, this process requires high precision and is not always successful.

3D printing is revolutionizing organ failure solutions in the medical industry. 3D printing or additive manufacturing uses bio links (living cells) to create tissue-like structures. Medical professionals use these laboratory-developed tissues to treat any injury or disease. This process is known as bioprinting.

In bioprinting, rather than the direct cell or tissue growth, , cells are grown on a scaffold that acts as a template to create the desired shape, size, and geometry rather than the direct cell or tissue growth. The live cells or bio links will multiply and cover the scaffold to form the desired structure. Gradually, the scaffold breaks, and the living cells are left that are arranged in the shape of the target tissue. Following this, scientists keep these tissues in a bioreactor or a chamber that offers the body’s internal environment. As a result, the tissue acquires mechanical and biological performance of the body tissue.

Various medical laboratories are working to create organic tissues in laboratories. US-based research company and medical laboratory Organovo is working to develop bio-printed liver and intestinal tissues. If successful, scientists will use these organs in vitro to develop drugs for certain diseases. Similarly, other laboratories worldwide are working to create human brain organoids and skin grafts for drug discovery and disease handling.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.