3D Printing In Medical Industry: Applications, Materials and Methods
3D printing or additive manufacturing (AM) is the new method of creating three-dimensional components. The manufacturing process begins typically with a computer-aided manufacturing tool sending the data to the 3D printer and ends with a layered structure. 3D printing is widely being used in different industries, among which the medical industry is attracting more attention.
Medical professionals rapidly recognize the benefit of additive manufacturing and its added value to developing surgical tools, implants, prosthetics, etc. This method’s advantages, such as cost and time efficiency, the ability to make complex geometries, and customization, make it a suitable choice for medical uses. This article aims to discuss the main medical applications of AM and the materials and methods used in this industry.
4 Main Medical Applications For 3D Printing
Despite the conventional manufacturing methods in which the components need several steps to be fabricated, 3D printing provides the single-step procedure to create a medical part or device. In the beginning, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved 3D printed medical parts were limited to orthopedics and implants. Nowadays, however, the medical applications of additive manufacturing are advanced, and here are the four most common ones introduced so far:
Although 3D-printed implants are not the only medical devices produced by this method, they are still the most common. The production of implants, like dental implants, artificial joints, cranial plates, and patient-specific devices, quickly convert to AM as it is easy to be customized and fast to produce.
When it comes to implants, the body rejection rate matters. The wide range of biocompatible materials used in AM and the special surface geometry produced by it lead to the fabrication of the implants that are unlikely to be rejected by the patient’s body. The porous structure of the AM products promotes better osseointegration which reduces the risk of rejection considerably.
Conventionally produced prosthetics are usually expensive and less adapted to the patient’s body. The additively manufactured prosthetics, on the other hand, are revolutionizing this industry. 3D-printed prosthetics are cheaper to produce. Furthermore, the 3D scanning before the manufacturing process helps to have the patient-specific prosthetics that fit the wearer’s anatomy and effectively cut the time spent on the fitting and casting process.
AM has also improved the way the surgeries are being done. Since the cases might get too complex and efficiency in the operating room is everything, 3D-printed patient-specific anatomical models can play a crucial role. These 3D-printed tactile and affordable models provide physicians with an additional view to get prepared for the surgery.
3D-printed surgical tools are also helpful in the intraoperative phase. Every surgeon’s hand is different, as is every patient’s body. The customized surgical instruments designed for each surgeon’s hand increase the accuracy, efficiency and reduce the time spent in the operating room.
3D bioprinting is another medical application of AM which is still in early development. Bioprinting refers to the use of stem cells in 3D printers to produce human organs and tissues. So far, researchers have succeeded in producing bones and skin, and one day (supposedly not very soon, though), they may be able to create functioning organs.
The Most Common Materials Used In Medical 3D Printing
The importance of the materials’ behavior in the human body makes material selection the main concern and the most critical part of this procedure. When it comes to implementing an artificial part in the body, not all materials are equally biocompatible in terms of toxicity. It means that the materials used in 3D printing of the medical components and devices must be harmless to tissues and be corrosion-resistant enough against the body’s fluid. Here are some of the most common materials being used in medical 3D printers:
Titanium and Its Alloys
Titanium’s specific properties have turned it into the most popular medical industry material. It is lightweight, corrosion-resistant, and non-reactive, and has high strength. Dental implants, replacement joints, and cranial plates are the main applications of Titanium.
This lightweight, durable plastic shows superior flexibility and corrosion resistance and can easily be sterilized. It is known as an inexpensive plastic that can be printed by selective laser sintering (SLS).
This metal alloy is also solid, corrosion-resistant, and is mainly used for surgical tools and temporary implants. Stainless steels can be printed at a low cost while providing promising properties.
As biocompatible as Titanium, cobalt chrome shows higher strength and hardness to replace the replacement teeth and joints like the shoulder.
The Best 3D Printing Methods In Medical Industry
Every additive manufacturing method offers its own merits. Choosing the best method is completely dependent on the application of the product. Here, we briefly explain the top 3 3D printing methods used in the medical field:
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
There is a powder substrate of raw material on which the laser moves and fuses the powders in this printer type. By repeating this process, the component will be made layer by layer. Depending on the laser’s power and precision’s fineness, it is possible to create delicate structures by SLS printers.
Thermal Inkjet Printing (TIJ)
In this method, droplets of ink or other materials are deposited using mechanical compression or heat on a substrate. TIJ printers are mainly being used in tissue engineering and bioprinting because of their effect on mammalian cells.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
FDM uses a printhead to build the components layer by layer out of plastic more inexpensive than SLS. Heating the materials helps to bind the layers to each other and then hardened by cooling.
To Wrap Up…
Although the medical application of 3D printing is growing every day, the ideal portion of this field in AM industry is yet to come. AM plays in customization and personalization are beneficial for both patients and professionals by enhancing customization and comfort levels.
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