Three-dimensional printing is one of the hottest innovations in manufacturing. It essentially uses additive manufacturing processes to layer raw materials on top of each other in precise and well-planned fashion.
One way that this technology is being used is with 3D printing medical devices. In fact, these three-dimensional devices are changing the medical industry in many positive ways.
1. Customized Medical Devices
Many medical devices must be customized specifically for a unique individual. For example, a heart valve may need to be precisely created based on the dimensions of the organ. With 3D printing medical devices, imaging can be used to recreate the organs that are being studied or operated on.
The medical devices can then be customized specifically for those organs. This level of customization was not readily available or as affordable before 3D printing.
2. Surgical Guides
While some 3D printing medical devices are used to customize devices that can then be surgically implanted in patients or used in other ways, some 3D printing efforts are used to create replicas of body parts. The body parts are initially replicated using graphic imaging procedures.
Then, the surgeons can use the 3D replica to plan a complicated surgical procedure and even to practice the procedure before attempting it. This can potentially improve the outcome of some procedures.
3. Educational Models
It can be challenging and expensive to create realistic replicas of different parts of human anatomy, but replicas and models are often beneficial or even necessary for educational purposes. In some classrooms, 3D printing medical devices have been used to provide students with a more detailed and in-depth view of different aspects of anatomy. This may be on specific organs, entire systems or something else entirely.
4. Customized Splints
There are instances when the medical community is at a loss for how to properly treat certain conditions. For example, a newborn baby who was born at the University of Michigan’s health center had tiny airways that kept collapsing. Doctors needed to find a way to open the airway permanently while still allowing normal growth and development of the body.
A three-dimensional stint was made out of the same material that is used in dissolving stitches. It was perfectly designed for the baby’s body, and it proved to be an effective way to resolve this problem when no other solution seemed to be available.
5. Invisalign Braces
Many people are familiar with Invisalign braces as a treatment for crooked or misaligned teeth, but they are not aware that these braces are 3D printing medical devices. Invisalign uses graphical imaging of the teeth in their current state, and three-dimensional trays are created to place over the patient’s teeth.
Each week, the patient replaces the tray with one that is designed to alter the position of the teeth slightly more significantly than the previous week’s trays used. This innovation is changing the way individuals improve the look and function of their teeth.
6. Lightweight Back Braces
In the past, patients who have had serious spinal issues had have to wear very large and uncomfortable back braces. These are commonly used for the treatment of scoliosis as well as for supporting those who have recently had a spinal fusion.
However, 3D printing medical devices that use fine nylon powder can now be customized to create a lightweight, breathable and form-fitting brace. This is far more comfortable and less noticeable than the previous braces that were once commonly used.
Many individuals are seriously injured each year, and they rely on prosthetic limbs and other similar features to move around. Some individuals are born with a disability or develop a disability through genetics. Wheelchairs, crutches and other devices were once commonly used to address the issue of mobility in disabled individuals, but this is no longer the only or best option available.
Flexible nylon fibers can now be customized to fit the individual perfectly. These lightweight braces can then be attached to a very small motorized device. In a sense, this creates a natural-looking exoskeleton that can be maneuvered through discrete hand controls.
8. Bone Replicas
Many of the uses for 3D printing medical devices are intended for external functions, but some devices are now available for use inside the body. For example, some medical professionals are creating 3D replicas of bones, and these bones may be used for knee or other joint surgeries. They have even been used for facial reconstruction after a serious accident to create a more natural appearance that mimics how the patient looked before the accident.
9. Reconstructed Organs
One of the more sophisticated and innovative uses for three-dimensional printing relates to reconstructing entire organs for surgical implantation into patients. This procedure uses actual cells in the three-dimensional printing process. It is currently being used to create new bladders in individuals who have serious bladder issues. In the future, it may be used to create new kidneys and other organs. It may eliminate the need to find a donor when organs fail.
As you can see, there are many innovative uses for three-dimensional printing in the medical industry. In some cases, medical professionals have used this technology innovatively as treatment for unique cases. With this in mind, many new uses of 3D printing may be introduced in the coming years.