Discover how 3D printing impacts the medical industry

How 3D printing impacts the medical industry

Posted By on Jul 19, 2017 | 1 comment

The singularity of the Healthcare industry is that it has to adapt with a very accurate specificity to every patient. The resources used for surgeries or to treat the patient are often customized, expensive and limited. Those constraints are very adapted to the use of 3D printing technology which prints a unique piece, fully customized and at an affordable cost. In this way, 3D printing of medical parts was quickly on the rise in this industry. How does 3D printing currently impact the Healthcare industry and what to expect in the future? 

Low-cost 3D printed Prosthesis
Implants made-to-measure
Digitalizing of the dental Sector
Reducing the need for donors thanks to 3D bioprinting
Preparing an operation and educational practice

Using 3D printing for breast reconstruction
Scaled and lifelike models
Customized drugs and precision health
3D printing the “first entirely soft artificial heart”
A skin 3D printer to save burnt victims
Affordable and accessible tools everywhere in the world
Our customer story in the Medical industry: Ancillary tools created by Dr. Marc Soubeyrand


1. Low-cost 3D printed Prosthesis

Prosthetics are a sensitive topic in healthcare and for the patients. They are vital for patients who need them but they are also often unaesthetic and expensive, their cost can go up to $100,000. With 3D printing technology, their cost can be cut down to $1000 and even under!

The Openhandproject or the network e-Nable create communities of volunteers who create open source medical devices and 3D printed prosthetic hands. These 3D printed prosthetic are free or if people can afford cost $80 – $150. These projects create more than 300 hands this year.

3D printing is changing many things: it even helps to bring a little of magic for kids facing a handicap by creating super-hero prosthetic, as the “Iron Man” prosthetic forearm and hand developed by Limbitless Solutions for $300.

In the coming years, E-Nable will develop other types of prosthesis for people who need them from the elbow to the hand allowing everyone to get a perfectly fit prosthesis.

3D printed prosthetic forearm

A prosthetic forearm and hand developed by Limbitless


2. Implants made-to-measure

The purpose of an implant is to replace a functional part of the body. An implant needs at the same time to be accepted by the organism and to reproduce identically the function of the original part. The medical technologies used to respect these two constraints are expensive and need a significant investment cost in Research and Development to improve the medical model. With 3D printing and the use of adapted medical material, the shape of the implants can be improved easily and at a lower cost.

CSIRO’s Lab 22 has created the first printed sternum and ribs to save a patient diagnosed with a chest wall sarcoma. Due to the development of cancer, the medical team decided to remove his sternum and part of his rib cage. Nevertheless, the doctors knew that it would be difficult to find an implant suiting the shape of the chest cavity. The implant needed to be perfectly customized. Thus, the 3D printing solution appeared as the most suited. Using metal printing with Titanium material, which is often used for chest 3D printed implants, they created a made-to-measure implant from the patient’s scan.

The key challenges for the future of 3D printing in this industry will be to develop new materials and to improve the reactivity to create a made-to-measure implant in only a few hours to save patient-lives in an emergency situation.

3D printing for medical industry, 3D printed sternum by Anatomics

3D printed sternum: Image via: Anatomics

3D printed sternum for medical industry

3D printed titanium sternum and ribs. Photo via: Anatomics


3. Digitalizing of the dental sector

Did you know that when you go to the dentist and he makes a mold of your mouth, he has to keep this mold? Moreover, taking into account the unpleasant feeling and taste of the material used for molding, 3D printing appears to be a relevant technology for the Orthodontic industry. With a 3D scan, dentists can 3D print plaster models, positioning trays, orthodontic appliances, clear aligners and retainers without disturbing their clients. Also, they can totally digitize their workflow by reducing the molding time. It also cuts down on storage because all the 3D scans are stored in their computer, instead of in a storage room.

At first, 3D printers were just used to make some components used in final restorations. Today, their uses tend to develop toward final products, which would be in the future the ultimate goal of 3D printing in the dental sector. Still, in order to reach this goal, 3D printing materials should significantly improve in terms of durability and nature.

In the future, you might have the possibility to go to the dentist to have a provisional restoration, directly shaped from your mouth with Zirconia material.



4. Reducing the need for donors thanks to 3D bioprinting

3D printing is revolutionizing the healthcare industry in many ways. One of our inspiring customer stories, Professor Daniel Kelly, who is with his team at the Advanced Materials and Bioengineering Research Center (AMBER) is taking part in this revolution by researching how to 3D print cartilage and bones using a bio-ink.

Millions of medical procedures require a bone graft each year. However, these procedures are still considered to have a risk of failure, and at the same time, it’s also hard to find some donors. The research in bio-printing bone conducted by Prof. Kelly allows reducing the need for donors which at the same time, opens possibilities of customization, and of the creation of complex shapes according to the patient’s body.

Discover more about 3D printing cartilage and bone through our blogpost: A Revolution for Medical 3D Printing: Pr. Kelly tells about 3D printing Bone


5. Preparing an operation and educational practice

When a resident trainee performs a surgery for the first time, even if he might be very skilled, the different steps of the operation can take him a little longer than usual. This delay might impact the frustration of the resident, the operation time and even the time the patient is under anesthesia. In the same way, for a specialized surgeon, some very delicate operations such as the separation of conjoined twins need to be absolutely prepared. In order to train themselves, the doctors prepare themselves on lifelike models of the body part they should operate.

With the traditional manufacturing system to create a prototype, the process begins with a solid block of material and removes pieces until what is remaining is the prototype. But the equipment and raw materials are expensive and the process is not very reactive.
While with additive manufacturing, they can print a customized 3D mold in a short time at an affordable cost. It allows students to train more before their first surgery.

Dr. Mac Quants from the Royal College Specialty Committee in Cardiac Surgery even observed: “that the learning curve was rapid for those who had a chance to practice on the simulator, even without the guidance of a mentor; the simple, repetitive act of trying a surgical procedure over and over was valuable.”

In the future, 3D printing might be a common tool for students to learn and practice to perform surgery techniques.


6. Using 3D printing for breast reconstruction

As mentioned before, 3D printing reaches almost every application in the medical industry including breast reconstruction. A company Mat(t)isse and doctors from the CHU of Lille have developed a new method that benefits to women who are in need of breast prosthesis.

Instead of using silicone implants, Mat(t)isse and the three doctors used other breast reconstruction techniques: the fat transfer technique or lipofilling. However, the problem when using this method is that if you inject too much fat into the breast area, it may be reabsorbed by the body over time, and the patient has to undergo another surgical procedure.

In order to avoid the fat being absorbed by the body, they created a 3D printed shell with a lace shape. This prosthesis is entirely bio-resorbable which means it would be absorbed by the body like stitches. Reconstruction is natural, the prosthesis can be customized and the patient no longer needs to re-do the surgery.

Mat(t)isse 3D printed shell for breast reconstruction

Image via: Lattice Medical.

Discover more about how Mat(t)isse created the prosthesis for breast reconstruction using this innovative 3D printing technique through this blogpost


7. Scaled and lifelike models

From a patient scan, doctors can easily create a 3D model with the software Osirix. Indeed, the software creates .stl files from which you can realize a 3D print. This print will be a lifelike reproduction of the scan. It can be used to create a 3D model of the patient’s specific body part to create an adapted solution, to show in class some real-life case study or even to run some tests.

The 3D-printed ultrasound of a blind mother was a telltale example of the possibilities of this technology.

3D ultrasound technology

3D ultrasound technology allows Tatiana Guerra to feel what her unborn baby looks like for the first time. Image credit: Huggies Brasil

8. Customized drugs and precision health

Two years ago, Lee Cronin a chemist at the University of Glasgow, made a TED Talk about the possibilities of 3D printing to create customized drugs. He described how patients could print their homemade medicine. First, they would go to an online drugstore with their digital prescription, buy the blueprint and the chemical ink needed, and then print the drug at home. His talk announced the end of drugs as we know them. Instead of it, we would rather buy blueprints or apps. Two years ago, this talk appeared to be slightly too futurist.

And yet,  the U.S Food and Drug Administration approved the first 3D printed pill in August 2015: the Spritam Levetiracetam. This drug can reduce seizures among epileptics and is manufactured by pharmaceutical company Aprecia. The additive process is still built layer-by-layer by laying down active and inactive ingredients.

Personalized Medicine would revolutionize the way people treat themselves. As an example, they cannot take a specific medicine because of an allergy to certain ingredients. Then, during the printing process of the medicine, this component would just not be included. Patients will be treated based on their genetic makeup. The addition of pills will no more be relevant, as it would be possible to create the perfect medicine made-to-measure. To take it even further, precision health may be the secret to predict and ultimately prevent various diseases already present in the inner workings of our genetic profile.



9. 3D printing the “first entirely soft artificial heart”

ETH Zurich researchers have created a soft artificial heart fully made of silicone and designed to have the same size as a human heart. It weighs approximately 390 grams with a volume of 679 cm3. Unlike any other artificial hearts, this is the first soft silicon artificial heart to be 3D printed using lost-wax casting process.

The researchers designed this silicone heart to have exactly the same structure, form and function as the patient’s one with both ventricles and an additional chamber or muscle to control the pump. This silicon heart is proven through several tests to behave like a real human heart. However, the silicone material can only resist until 3.000 beats which represents less than one hour of a lifespan. Thus, it can not be successfully implanted on a real human body.

Nicholas Cohrs, a doctoral student who developed the silicon artificial heart explains:

“This was simply a feasibility test. Our goal was not to present a heart ready for implantation, but to think about a new direction for the development of artificial hearts.”

According to ETH Zurich, there are 26 million people who suffer from heart failure. A patient has to use blood pumps to be able to recover from the heart issues or wait for the donors while on the other hand, the percentage of heart donors are very low. The artificial heart is needed. Although there are more to develop in this area of the artificial heart, we believe that sooner, 3D printing will bring new medical devices providing a vital solution to recover from heart problems and obviously can save more lives. 

As a start, it would be possible to use the 3D printing process to realize only parts of this organ, such as a heart valve or a blood vessel from the vascular network.

Photo credit: Heart Zurich


10. A skin 3D printer to save burnt victims

3D printing is a reactive technology, that can quickly adapt its production. Thus, in the case of emergency, this process of production might offer new possibilities to care various injuries. It is the statement made by James Yoo at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in the US when he started to work on his skin printer. The distinctive feature of this printer is that it doesn’t need to print the skin as an independent object, that will be after incorporated into the body. No, James Yoo succeeded to create a printer that can print skin straight onto the wounds of burn victims.



11. Affordable and accessible 3D printed medical devices everywhere in the world

One should not underestimate the portability of some 3D printers. This means that the technology can be deployed even in poverty-stricken areas of the world. This flexibility helps the medical teams over there to 3D print every tool they need and cannot afford with traditional manufacturing means. After the Earthquake in Haiti, Field Ready continued its journey in using this layer-by-layer technology to create medical supplies to improve the health care for people who live in remote areas in Nepal.

Some small villages didn’t have the medical access as they had a terrible road infrastructure in which it was hard to reach. Field Ready manufactured some of the medical devices such as otoscopes, tweezers, forceps and stethoscopes using a 3D printer in order to give small villagers a medical checkup. Through 3D printing, the tool can be made directly in the field which is more faster and less expensive.


12. Our customer story in the Medical industry: Ancillary tools created by Dr. Marc Soubeyrand

The ancillary tools realized in Nylon on SLS 3D printers by Sculpteo allow Marc Soubeyrand to give implants the best position during a surgery. The creation of made-to-measure medical equipment, based on the medical data (scans, MRI, etc) of the patient, enables a very precise approach to the surgical practice. The major upside for the patient is to know that the surgery is tailored to his needs and that it will result in higher comfort.

Medical_ancilarry 3D printing tools new

Medical_ancilarry 3D printing tools ready to use

Medical_ancilarry 3D printing tools

You can refer to our blogpost about Sculpteo Success Story: 3D printed medical tools for surgery to learn more about this 3D printed medical tools and how they are already changing medicine.


3D printing in medicine creates amazing medical applications. Indeed, 3D printing has a strong potential to revolutionize the medical industry. It’s not only about the benefits of personalization and customization, but also about the fact that 3D printing can make healthcare affordable and accessible to everyone. Many innovations could pop up in the years to come in the medical field and become mainstream: we could or will be able to print things like human ears, human organs, a living cell, synthetic skin, human tissue such as liver tissue, hearing aids, etc.

Interested in the numerous applications of 3D printing? You can refer to our 3D printing applications pages to learn more about what 3D printing can bring to yourself or to your business! The 3D printing industry will always surprise you!

Interested in medical 3D printing? Learn how to create a replica of your brain thanks to this technology, using CT scans from a professional 3D scanner to get your own 3D printed model. 

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