3D printing continues to change the way we think about design and industrial manufacturing. This is especially true in medical applications, offering advancements in diagnosing, treatment, training, and maintaining equipment in hospitals and other medical settings.

Medical 3D Printing Benefits Patients and Hospitals

Studies show that 3D printing in medicine is extremely effective. Products like 3D printed medical models and surgical guides decrease time in the operating room, saving thousands of dollars per case. Longer surgical procedures may also be reduced by as much as 2.5 hours. 

Medical 3D printing is projected to reach $5,846.74 million by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 20.10% from 2021 to 2030. Originally created for engineers to enjoy the rewards of faster prototyping and product development in the mid-80s, additive manufacturing has made impacts in nearly every application. The strides made in 3D printing for medical use are exceptionally valuable, however. One of the greatest benefits of 3D printing in medicine is the ability to offer patient-specific treatment.

“ … 3D printing technology caters to the rise in demand for personalized medical care by providing customized medical devices based on individual needs,” confirms Allied Market Research. “Furthermore, it provides several advantages over traditional reconstructive surgeries by reducing the operative risks involved during complex procedures, minimizing the susceptibility to infections, and decreases the duration of anesthesia exposure.”

3D Printing for Medical Diagnostics

3D printing in medical begins with imaging, translating 2D data into models and other medical devices. Historically, doctors relied on medical imaging like X-rays, Computed Tomography (CT) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to diagnose and treat patients. This data can be taken to another level with 3D printing for examining serious conditions like brain tumors, heart defects, or bone fractures. Patient-specific treatment begins with the 3D printed medical model–a personalized device offering a multitude of benefits. Surgeons are able to get a 3D look at the patient’s condition; for example, they may be examining a brain tumor or a heart defect. Taking an intricate look at the health issue, doctors can begin formulating a treatment plan. The 3D printed medical model also serves as a comprehensive visual aid for patients and their families, educating them on the patient’s condition and potential surgery. In some cases, a surgeon may be preparing for a new or rare surgery, spending hours training with the model–and even using it as a guide in the operating room. Medical students can also gain valuable knowledge training with 3D printed medical models.

Companies like Armor Bionics design 3D models, relying on Shapeways to 3D print them in durable material like Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] with Selective Laser Sintering technology. Their manufacturing partnership allows for both companies to focus on their expertise, providing a fast and effective process for working with doctors and hospitals. Because human lives are involved, the Armor Bionics team is not shy about rapid prototyping and creating as many iterations as needed to reach the detail and accuracy required for their models–often described as a GPS for surgeons.

The team at Armor Bionics reports that the advantages are impossible to ignore. The Armor Bionics 3D printed models enhance pre-planning for what may be delicate operations, allowing everyone involved–from patients to doctors to medical staff–to benefit tremendously. With access to such accurate models, doctors can shorten operating and recovery times, and reduce margins in error due to more precise diagnostics and tools.

Other recommended materials for 3D printed medical models include:

High Definition Full Color – Offered for photorealistic 3D printed medical models, this material is available in a staggering range of ten million hues, available in standard or matte finishes. 3D printed with Material Jetting technology, High Definition Full Color anatomical models represent the human body in exacting detail. Learn more about this 3D printing material and design guidelines here.

Multi Jet Fusion PA12 – Also popular for 3D printing complex medical models, MJF PA12 is available in gray and black. Shapeways 3D prints MJF PA12 using Multi Jet Fusion technology, creating strong, durable medical models capable of standing up to long-term handling. Explore the design guidelines here.

3D Printing for Medical Training

Elevating the 3D printed model for surgical training, companies like Flamingo Works partner with Shapeways to provide doctors with gamified learning devices. As robotic assistance continues to evolve in the operating room, more advanced training systems are also necessary for refining new skills and dexterity.

3D printing has made it possible for the industrial designers to develop unprecedented gamified systems that are colorful, engaging, and effective. In choosing Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printing with Shapeways, their team was afforded greater design freedom without the need to create intricate support structures. Flamingo Works 3D printed many of the surgical training platforms during the prototyping phase. They were able to iterate quickly, 3D print new parts, and test them soon after they were complete for form and functionality.

Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] allowed for the necessary durability required with repetitive use of the training models presenting different surgical tasks with increasing levels of challenge. 3D printed SLS parts made with Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] can also be dyed in nine different colors during post-production.

3D Printing Enhances Medical Equipment

The possibilities in 3D printing for medical applications are infinite, encompassing a wide range of accessories. When Steven Jaworski of Voytek Medical began creating clasps to organize medical equipment cables, the engineer was motivated to increase efficiency in the hospital setting. Rather than allowing medical equipment to be out of service due to missing components, Jaworski realized there was an easy fix to keep parts secure–and machines functioning. 

The long-term savings are tremendous in the hospital setting, especially in asset protection, saving cables that could be lost or thrown out, including those bearing warranties. 3D printed medical equipment accessories like cable clasps make it possible for staff to perform their jobs more easily, and medical equipment companies are able to maximize longevity of equipment and peripheral accessories. 

Voytek’s 3D printed medical clasps are highly customized and can be color coded for maximum efficiency in diagnostics and patient care, as well as delineating parts that belong to different departments. Additive manufacturing makes it possible to scale orders, reduce assembly, and accelerate turnaround times.

Working with Shapeways granted Voytek accessibility to more advanced 3D printing technology and materials. Again, the freedom in design afforded via SLS 3D printing for medical meant that Jaworski could create sophisticated designs that are strong yet also lightweight. Partnering with Shapeways gave Jaworski more time to focus on design, building his brand, and marketing. 

On-Demand Medical 3D Printing

3D printed medical equipment designs can be maintained on digital file at Shapeways and manufactured on demand. The ability to order products as needed can play a huge role in the success of any manufacturer, allowing them to make changes and customize to scale.

With Shapeways, 3D printed medical products can be manufactured quickly and delivered in customized packaging to manufacturers or their own customers. Other major benefits of on-demand 3D printing for medical include security in uploading, maintaining, and storing inventory of customized parts. Production is optimized for higher quality and output, promoting savings in material and energy too. The supply chain is streamlined, manufacturers have more control, and distribution is a focus. 

About Shapeways

Enjoy the benefits of this advanced technology and a wide range of materials from Shapeways for 3D printing your creations with accuracy, complex detail, and no minimum or limits in terms of mass customization or single part orders. Shapeways has worked with over 1 million customers in 160 countries to 3D print over 21 million parts! Read about case studies, find out more about Shapeways additive manufacturing solutions, and get instant quotes here.