Every person’s body is unique – 3D printing really shines in healthcare applications by enabling bespoke solutions. Whether it’s an imprint printed from a 3D scan of a child’s forearm, new tissue to repair an injury, or entirely new organs with embedded vascular structure, researchers are rapidly developing new applications for 3D printing in healthcare.
In 3D printing or additive manufacturing, a computer-designed 3D model is processed by melting material into a three-dimensional model. There are many different types of 3D printing that use different base materials: plastics, metals, and even human cells. By building up the material, typically in layers, you can create highly complex shapes and designs not possible with traditional manufacturing.
With the ability to customize healthcare 3D printing, surgeons can conduct exercise sessions on duplicate copies of the patient’s organs to improve success rates. In the nano range, doctors can deliver more targeted drug delivery.
How healthcare is using 3D printing around the world
Healthcare 3D printing is a growing subsector. Some applications have found worldwide application, but many are still in the research phase. For example, 3D printing of prostheses has enabled lower-cost manufacture of custom prostheses in low-income communities around the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reiterated the need for open source medical care designs that can be shared globally and 3D printed locally. Engineers have made personal protective equipment, ventilators, and manual tools to help our healthcare providers stay safe and effective in fighting the spread of the disease.
The adoption of 3D printing is huge in the Indian healthcare sector. Despite being launched in the Indian market more than 25 years ago, the adoption rate has been quite slow. However, the market is gradually starting to see the benefits of 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Actionable steps are being taken to improve new technologies like blockchain and 3D printing, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), all of which contribute to health care efficiency. As these new technologies are implemented, both the cost and the way we treat certain diseases can change.
The future of 3D printing in healthcare
Some of the research above may change the way we treat organ failure. The idea of using a person’s own cells to 3D print new organs to reduce rejection rates like those seen in organ transplants is fascinating.
As a new technology, improving consistency and reliability in 3D printing is of tremendous importance when it comes to life support applications. We call a misplaced lump of plastic a misprint, but that would be unacceptable on a cellular level. Ideally, improving the consistency and in-situ quality control of the 3D printing processes, especially for custom applications, would allow greater expansion into medical fields.
The article was written by IEEE experts.