Is 3D Printing the Future of Healthcare?

Written by Chanda Lalwani

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Posted on April 19 2021

Nearly 40 years after its inception, additive manufacturing (AM) — better known as 3D printing — has become a staple in many modern industries. From jewelry 3D printing to functional aircraft parts, there’s no end to the applications of this novel technology across a number of fields. In fact, despite the advent of COVID-19, the 3D printing industry posted a growth of 7.5% which amounted to almost $12.8 billion last year, according to a report by AM consulting firm Wohlers.

This growth is partially driven by the healthcare industry, where 3D printing has made an enormous impact. So is 3D printing truly the future of healthcare? Let’s take a look at some of the following medical applications:


COVID-19 Essentials

Millions of flights were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a supply chain disruption in hospitals around the world. But thanks to 3D printing, healthcare workers were able to manufacture essentials such as protective gear, nasal swabs, and even emergency isolation wards. And 3D printing has shown great potential when it comes to crisis response and swift mobilization of available resources — something that will continue to be relevant in the future.


Bioprinting Applications

Human cells are incredibly complex. They make up the various tissues in the body by differentiating into multiple cell types. Each has its own role to play, all while being invisible to the naked eye. In fact, a Gala Bingo post on human cells reports that you can actually fit around 10,000 average-sized human cells on the head of a pin. The size of the cell varies, too, depending on their function.

The way cells work has been difficult to replicate in a laboratory setting, which makes it all the more impressive that scientists have since found a way to 3D print human cells on a chip. These mini organoids are used to test certain drugs before trying them out on live animals. Still, scientists have a long way to go before printing a fully functional and transplantable organ. To learn more about the history of 3D printing and its impact on bioprinting applications, please click here.


Prosthetics Made Accessible & Affordable

Losing a limb or hand will greatly affect someone's quality of life. Prosthetics can cost anywhere between $3,000 and $100,000 — not to mention the expenses from specialized manual fitting. This is extremely inaccessible to the average citizen, no matter how much they need it.

Fortunately, 3D printing has been making these solutions more attainable to everyone. Aside from being low-cost, prosthetics made via 3D printing also have the added benefit of being customizable — thanks to designs informed by 3D scanning. Therefore, it’s possible for these devices to “grow” alongside their users by simply rescaling and reprinting the base design. The products aren’t lacking in quality either, and thus, should be looked into as a way to democratize access to prosthetics.

To learn more about how 3D printing can assist those with disabilities, please click here


Rapid Prototyping of Medical Devices

The ease and cost efficiency offered by 3D printing has revolutionized several industries, including healthcare. The impact has been profound, boosting production rates while also reducing expenses.

Today, over 90% of the top 50 medical device companies create accurate prototypes through 3D printing. This has also allowed them to hasten the design process by simply iterating complex designs in-house instead of outsourcing the work to service providers. The overall result is a faster and cheaper way to churn out in-demand equipment without compromising on quality.


3D Printing Applications in Dentistry

3D printing also offers dentists and practitioners a faster and much more efficient way of creating dental models for patients. With dental 3D printing, productivity levels are more than doubled as large quantities of dental models can easily be created in one print.

Dentists can now simply scan their patients’ teeth to print out accurate and precise dental models and parts. With 3D printing, dentists can also reduce costs by up to 80% — which means that patients, in turn, get to save on their dental expenses as well. 3D printing offers a cost-effective way to create high-quality dental models at an affordable price. To learn more about which dental 3D printers Phrozen offers, please click here.

As healthcare professionals delve further into the applications of 3D printing, new and better clinical solutions will eventually be developed to elevate the quality of patient care. So, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that 3D is, indeed, the future of healthcare.

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