The 3-D printing movement has been featured in countless articles and media describing the changes it will bring to manufacturing, technology and the world. But what can we expect to see in the medical simulation community?

Currently, the majority of medical simulation training devices are manufactured with traditional methods that meet the general objective of training healthcare providers. Yet this current simulation equipment lacks realism, which is needed when training future and current healthcare workers.

With 3-D printing we are able to usher in a new wave of highly realistic training models that can be developed based off specific patient anatomy when needed. These patient specific 3-D models can be used to train clinicians to be prepared for their actual cases.

Simulation training models developed with 3-D printing technology currently exist, and many more will be coming to the market in the future. These 3-D training models for airway management, patient simulators and skills trainer prototypes have been created and used in different medical simulation centers throughout the country.

Most of these products have come from commercial companies. But, with 3D printing technology, we can expect to see a shift to developing these products at individual center sites and incorporating the needs of the end-users.

Currently, the biggest obstacles facing simulation centers from adopting this technology is cost and training. The field of 3-D printers and materials is rapidly changing, with new printers and materials becoming available every few months.

Understanding how the 3-D printers function and their limitations can pay off when assessing which device to purchase. There are many desktop/consumer printers that offer a wide selection of materials and upgrades to the 3-D printers themselves.

Although the desktop 3-D printers may lack some bells and whistles, their features and materials can be comparable to professional models, and the printers can accomplish many of the tasks needed, such as creating presurgical planning models and developing prototypes all for a relatively low cost.

Training is another obstacle adopting this technology. The 3-D printers have evolved with reliability increasing and failures declining. However, this is still a piece of equipment that requires a good understanding on how to operate, otherwise failures will become common.

Training is currently offered through the 3-D printer/software manufactures and resellers. Local events and conferences are another source to get hands-on training with printers and software. Overall, there is still a wide training gap for new users both in terms of equipment and software.

The medical simulation community will stand to benefit greatly from this new and emerging technology using 3-D printers. Soon staff in simulation centers will be able to create and adapt training models to better suit clinicians in a wide range of applications.