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Health is Wealth- The lifesaving industry explores 3D printing

“Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also love for humanity”- Hippocrates

There is immense amount of revolution in the industry of medicine as specialists worldwide believe in finding solutions for most illness. As the need for medical applications keep expanding by the day the medical industries face a plethora of regulatory challenges leading to protracted lead times as well as high device development costs for new and enhanced medical devices.

These industry players who have explored several options have found 3D printing as a promising and cost efficient solution. Additive manufacturing which involves printing 3 dimensional objects layer by layer has helped business significantly reduce their design iterations and integrate complex shapes or structures, personalize devices for the user and even simplify manufacturing processes.

Today, 3D printing is emerging as a cost effective, efficient, and customised manufacturing option for the medical devices industry—applicable to a range of devices such as dental implants, hearing aids, prostheses, custom-made knee and hip implants, and surgical instruments. This technology promises to deliver on various counts such as personalization according to patients or users, flexibility in design and manufacturing, decreased material wastage, elimination of specialized tooling, and low lifecycle costs. Combined with the maturity of the 3D printing process (in terms of better materials, machines, and technological innovations), the technology can be used to develop many new medical devices that were earlier deemed difficult to create, expensive, or not patient friendly.

Globally there are several medical institutes which are exploring the uses of 3D printing in the medical industry since 2000. One such example of 3D used in Medical procedure is the operation conducted by a medical team at the University of Michigan’s C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital, in Ann Arbor to treat a rare condition called tracheobronchomalacia in a 3 month old baby. Tracheobronchomalacia is a condition in which the tissue of would persistently collapse making breathing difficult and it regularly blocked vital blood vessels nearby, including the aorta, triggering cardiac and pulmonary arrest.

The medical procedure at the University of Michigan worked on a similar principle. The researchers began by taking a CT scan of the baby’s chest, which they converted into a highly detailed, three-dimensional virtual map of his altered airways. From this model, they designed and printed a splint—a small tube, made of the same biocompatible material that goes into sutures—that would fit snugly over the weakened section of airway and hold it open. It was strong but flexible, and would expand as the boy grew. A year later researchers reported that the boy was thriving with no unforeseen problems.

This is just one example, there are various other case where 3D printing has proved as a life saver in the medical industry  and researchers are exploring more possibilities with the science of 3D printing.

3D printing in the medical industry has indeed grown to leaps and bounds to produce bones, ears, exoskeletons, windpipes, a jaw bone, eyeglasses, cell cultures, stem cells, blood vessels, vascular networks, tissues, and organs, as well as novel dosage forms and drug delivery devices. The current medical uses of 3D printing can be organized into several broad categories: tissue and organ fabrication; creating prosthetics, implants, and anatomical models; and pharmaceutical research concerning drug discovery, delivery, and dosage forms.

As patients start appreciating benefits of 3D printing such as reduced surgery costs, time, trauma and healing periods, the demand for personalized medical devices will increase. With this increase in demand, insurance providers will eventually need to cover the costs of 3D printed devices.

Through early adoption, 3D printing can help medical device manufacturers realize competitive advantage, while also reducing the time-to-market and manufacturing costs. Going beyond operations, medical device manufacturers can collaborate closely with partners to leverage this innovative technology and realize new efficiencies and deliver value to all stakeholders.


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