3-D Printing in the Medical Device IndustryJuly 2, 2013
You may have heard about the tiny customized splint made with a 3-D printer that saved an infant’s life recently. The rapidly advancing technology is making a big splash in the medical community with its wide variety of applications. Innovators are seeing some success creating bone-like materials and other implantable medical devices with the technology, which opens the door for more experimental procedures that could potentially save lives.
3-D printing could revolutionize the manufacturing industry with its ability to quickly create custom designs and functional prototypes out of a variety of materials. It is also known as “additive manufacturing.” But what is 3-D printing and how does it work?
The 3-D printing process starts out with a digital model, or computer aided design (CAD), which it uses as a blueprint. The machine takes the digital model and slices it into cross sections to use as a guideline for the additive process. Where other technologies may use a subtractive process, which drills holes in or cuts down the material, 3-D printers scrupulously add successive layers of material on top of one another to create a tangible object where there was once nothing. When completed, the digital and physical models are virtually identical. The finished products can be found in the jewelry, industrial, automotive, aerospace, engineering, architectural, and medical industries. The rising popularity of these machines has made them increasingly more affordable.
Scientists are researching ways that 3-D printing could be used for paleontology, forensic pathology, building construction, tissue engineering, and even food production. While still a new concept for the medical industry, 3-D printing has the potential to save lives in emergency situations because of its rapid turnaround time and ability to quickly customize.