Each person’s body is unique — 3D printing really shines in healthcare applications by enabling customized solutions. Whether it is a cast printed from a 3D scan of a child’s forearm, new tissue to repair an injury or entirely new organs manufactured with embedded vascular structure, researchers are creating new applications for 3D printing in healthcare at a lightning pace.
3D Printing, or additive manufacturing, is the process of taking a computer-designed 3D model and manufacturing it into a three-dimensional model by fusing material together. There are many different types of 3D printing, which use a variety of base materials: plastics, metals, even human cells. By building up the material, typically in layers, you can produce highly complex shapes and designs not possible in traditional manufacturing.
Because of the ability to individualize 3D printing in healthcare, surgeons can perform practice sessions on duplicate copies of patient’s organs to improve success rates. On the nanoscale, doctors can perform more precisely targeted drug delivery.
How healthcare is using 3D printing globally
3D printing in healthcare is a growing subsector. Some uses have reached global application, but many are still in the research phase. 3D printing of prosthetics, for example, has enabled more affordable custom prosthetic manufacturing in lower-income communities around the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reemphasized the need for open-source medical supply designs that can be shared globally, and 3D printed locally. Engineers have made personal protective equipment, ventilator supplies and manual tools to help our healthcare providers stay safe and effective as they fight the spread of the disease.
The adoption of 3D printing has a huge scope in India’s healthcare sector. Despite its introduction into the Indian market more than 25 years ago, the adoption rate has been quite slow. However, the market is gradually beginning to realise the advantages of 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Actionable steps are being taken to enhance emerging technologies like blockchain and 3D printing, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), all of which contribute to the efficiency of health care delivery. With these emerging technologies implemented, both the cost and way we treat certain ailments may begin to change.
The future of 3D printing in healthcare
Some of the research mentioned above can transform 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 intriguing.
As a new technology, improving consistency and reliability in 3D printing is hugely important as it moves into life-sustaining applications. We call a misplaced blob of plastic a print failure, but that would not be acceptable on the cellular level. Ideally, to improve the consistency and in-situ quality control of the 3D printing processes, especially for custom applications would enable greater expansion into medical fields.
The article is authored by IEEE experts.