The medical industry is changing quickly. While there have been major advances in the technological and biomedical engineering spaces, medical device manufacturers still need viable options for manufacturing devices and equipment both to patients and healthcare providers in an efficient, low-cost manner.

Moreover, the industry has an enormous need for customizable biocompatible and sterilizable components.

While many device manufacturers still use traditional production methods, 3D printing is making it possible to create biocompatible and sterilizable components at a pace that is equally fast as inexpensive.

Applications of 3D Printing in the Medical Field

3D printing has a number of novel applications that are making a big impact on the medical industry. These include:

3D Printed Prosthetics: Prosthetics need to be customized to meet the needs of each patient, making them both expensive and time-consuming to produce. Usually, the fitting process requires multiple castings and follow-up appointments to make sure they fit properly. With 3D printing, patients no longer need a physical cast. Using a scanner, data can be fed to a 3D printer that will develop a model that serves as the basis for a customized prosthetic in a single visit.

Patient Devices and Implants: Hearing aids, artificial joints, and heart valves have all been converting to 3D printing quickly. Hearing aids and heart valves can be produced in a single day when they used to take a week. Furthermore, silicone heart valves provide a major upgrade over traditional heart valves because the fit is more precise.

Dentistry and Orthodontics: Tools in the fields of dentistry and orthodontics require a high degree of customization as well. Dentures, crowns, implants, and retainers have to be tailored to meet the needs of the patient. Today, 3D scans and X-rays can be used to produce 3D printed models using sterilizable plastics in a short amount of time.

The Expansion of 3D Printing Materials

The materials used in 3D printing in the medical industry provide a major upgrade over traditional ingredients. Both TPU and Nylon have been rated by the FDA as Class I to VI for medical devices. This means they can handle prolonged skin contact without causing cytotoxicity. Some of the most popular materials used in 3D printing include:

  • Nylon PA-12: This is a general-purpose plastic that is durable, light, and resists corrosion. It can be sterilized in a steam autoclave.
  • Estane TPU: This is a 3D printable rubber for when applications call for an elastomer instead of rigid plastic.
  • Titanium: Titanium is the leader when it comes to biocompatible metals. It is used for pacemakers, replacement joints, dental implants, and more.
  • PC-ISO: This is a biocompatible polycarbonate that is used in FDM 3D printing. It is used in surgical guides and molds.

These materials make it possible for components produced via 3D printing to meet biocompatibility and sterilization requirements.

Benefits of 3D Printing in the Medical Industry

Manufacturing components for the medical industry requires precision to ensure compatibility, reliability and compliance. Turning to 3D printing as an option for producing components and parts offers the industry many benefits including:

  • Cost reduction thanks to no tooling requirements
  • The medical industry tends to be a low-volume space, which means that 3D printing makes this process much more affordable
  • Customers can be flexible with their orders, allowing them to change their designs on short notice
  • Shorter turnaround times than traditional methods

As the field of medicine advances and the need for highly customizable devices, components increase, 3D printing can offer the industry an option to produce these in a highly effective manner. With more options for making biocompatible, sterilizable and efficient components, the medical industry can advance in providing better patient outcomes.