Is 3D Printing Really Revolutionizing Medical Devices?

By Ray Hein

One of the biggest shifts with Industry 4.0 is additive manufacturing, sometimes referred to as 3D printing. Instead of taking months to get a metal part - create a plastic prototype, build out the tool for a metal prototype, and then go to volume production - additive manufacturing cuts out months and thousands of dollars from the manufacturing process. But is 3D printing just hype or is it really impacting today's manufacturers? Propel has been fortunate to work with several companies blazing a trail in 3D printing. 

When 3D printing first hit the mainstream, no one expected it to take flight and potentially revolutionize the medical device industry, let alone the world. While others might think 3D printing is for custom toys or trinkets, Propel's customers and innovative companies like Desktop Metal and CSIRO are actually using 3D printing to change the world.

CSIRO provides Australian companies access to 3D printing technologies via their Lab 22 group. In addition to offering 3D printing capabilities to companies seeking a competitive advantage and lower production costs, CSIRO is also transforming the medical community. They have 3D-printed sternums and rib cages for patients worldwide with varying diseases, from rare infections to cancer.

3D printing technology can be used to produce prosthetic limbs that are customized to fit the patient. When using traditional methods, it's quite common for amputees to wait months on end for their new prosthetic limbs. But with 3D printing, it not only significantly speeds up the process, it also creates products that offer patients the same functionality as traditionally manufactured prosthetics but at a lower cost.

This is also ideal for younger patients who might outgrow their prosthetics quickly or for those seeking a more customized option. Some companies provide preliminary scans of the patient's anatomy so the limb is customized to fit the area more naturally and accurately than the limbs created via traditional methods.

The Good Doctor 3D Prints a Femur

In ABC's The Good Doctor they explore 3D printing when one of the surgical residents suggests 3D printing a titanium femur for a man who was in a horrendous accident.   

3D Printing for Any Size Company

Despite metal 3D printers existing for the last couple decades, they’ve been limited in terms of materials, speed, cost, and accessibility. Only the biggest life sciences companies could afford it, and even then, it was with a limited scope.

Desktop Metal has changed all of that. They offer two metal 3D printing systems for the full product lifecycle – from prototyping to mass production. These two printers are not only accessible, but they're also affordable options for all sizes of medical device companies.

Whether you're a big or small company, Desktop Metal gives medical device companies the advantage and the ability to produce their own prototypes and the finished product. With the use of Desktop Metal printers, companies are able to get innovative medical devices to market faster than ever before. Desktop Metal provides 3D printing accessibility to the next generation of minds who seek to make the world a better place without all the red tape.


3D Replicas for Surgery Practice

Even though 3D printing might be a new technology in the medical world, it has already taken it by storm. 3D printing can create patient-specific organ replicas that surgeons can use to practice on before performing complex surgical operations. By using organ replicas, surgeons can test otherwise dangerous surgeries and eliminate potential risk for patients.

In Dubai, doctors are already 3D printing various organs for surgery practice. Notably, surgeons used a 3D printed model of a women's arteries to map out how to safely navigate her blood vessels after she suffered a cerebral aneurysm in four veins.


To the Future...

With 3D printing and 3D printing accessibility, we are seeing a wave of positive change in the medical device industry. 3D printing gives customization and personalization for patients, increased cost efficiency for companies, and positively impacts the overall democratization of design and collaboration. People who would normally not have access to 3D printers, now have access thanks to companies like Desktop Metal. For many people with less than ideal circumstances, Csiro and their partners are giving people a second chance at a full life.

Where will 3D printing take us in the next five, ten or 15 years? We will just have to wait and see. Let's just hope in the meantime companies and organizations are staying compliant with quality management software so they can avoid the dreaded, sometimes dangerous medical device failures.

Tags: medical devices, 3D Printing, QMS, quality management software