Medical & criminal 3D printing: the revolution of facial reconstruction | Sculpteo Blog

Medical & criminal 3D printing: the revolution of facial reconstruction

Posted By Kat Plewa on Dec 3, 2019 | 0 comments

Additive Manufacturing is bringing innovative solutions to many industries, including medicine and criminology. What brings those two fields together is facial reconstruction. How is 3D printing technology improving the lives of patients? Why is it chosen to help solve cold cases? Let’s see the most interesting applications of 3D printing done by doctors and police.

Second chance in life

3d printing face reconstruction


13 years ago Andy Sandness was 22 when he was struggling with depression. Pushed to the edge by his illness, he tried to take his own life. He failed at this attempt and as he says, he regrets ever trying to this day. He survived but was left with severe facial damage. However, thanks to 3D technologies, he was given a second chance.


10 years after the accident, 3D technologies were mature enough to help the doctors from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota give Andy a new face. It took a team of 50 professionals to perform a complete facial reconstruction. Only a dozen surgeries were attempted before and none of them as complex as Andy’s.


His case was particularly challenging as he was missing most of his face, basically all from his eyes down. Thanks to 3D scans, a 3D model of Andy’s face was produced. 3D technologies let the surgeons have a preparation for the surgery like never before. Thanks to 3D printed models they were able to measure exactly where to cut the face and avoid many complications.


Dr Samir Mardini M.D. comments ‘’Using this technology of 3D modeling, printing, virtual surgical planning is extremely beneficial. They would have cutting guides for us that we could clip on the bones, that would give us the exact location of the cut, exact angle of the cut, so when we took the donors face and put it on the recipient it would fit perfectly’’


The facial reconstruction took almost 60 hours and included jaw and eyelid surgery, but most demanding was facial nerve surgery. Andy had to be able to use the nerves of the donor’s face in order to speak, eat etc. Without 3D technologies this groundbreaking operation wouldn’t be possible.



3D printing helps bring eyesight back

Surgeons from Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Ward of Clinical University Hospital in Olsztyn, Poland, in cooperation with Zortax, a 3D printers manufacturer, improve the procedure of eye socket (orbit) reconstruction. How does it work? 


Different parts of the face require months of research before any reconstruction, and eye socket surgery is particularly challenging. There are patients from transportation accidents, but also suffering from cancer, who had to have orbital and partial skull removal in order to save their lives. There are also different complications to consider such as bulging of the eye, or double vision.


The solution is to place a titanium net to support the eyeball. The implant has to fit absolutely perfectly. The process is to use MRI or CT scans to produce a 3D facial reconstruction of the patient’s skull. Then, the healthy eyesocket is mirrored and placed over the damaged one. Editing the 3D model is very efficient and quick. The model is then sent to a slicing software and 3D printed, in the hospital which makes the pre-surgery preparation a lot faster. 


Without Additive Manufacturing, the titanium net has to be designed based on flat images and matched on the patient, which takes a lot longer, keeps the patient under anesthesia, and leaves a lot more room for complications.


3d printing face reconstruction


3d printing face reconstruction


Thanks to 3D printing techniques, the doctors can fit the titanium implant into the 3D printed model of a patient’s skull instead of doing it during the facial reconstruction surgery. This solution makes the whole procedure faster and much safer. The 3D model is also useful to explain the surgery to the patient and as an educational tool.


3D printing is solving crimes

Additive Manufacturing can change lives but also brings peace to the families that lost someone who disappeared without a trace. Just in Arizona, USA, since 2000 there have been over 1000 unsolved cases where the victims were not identified.  As sad as it sounds, there is hope in young artists from the New York Academy of Art.


This first success was to identify 8 victims thanks to 3D printing and facial reconstruction. The sulls were 3D scanned in Arizona, the 3D models were emailed to a medical examiner in New York and 3D printed. This solution shows exactly how beneficial 3D technologies are for allowing people to easily exchange 3D models and adjust them, working miles apart.


Additive Manufacturing provided the students with a base for facial reconstruction: 3D printed skull. Based on their forensic knowledge of the muscles and anatomy, the artists recreate the faces with clay. Thanks to 3D printing technology, they are able to produce the skulls fast, in a convenient place without any risk of damaging the original skull. Combining Additive manufacturing and fine art allows this police-school cooperation to bring peace to the families.



As you can see, the applications of 3D printing techniques are truly amazing and life-changing. It gives another chance to people who suffer from diseases, or accidents, but helps to find criminals and identify victims of cold cases. Combining facial reconstruction with 3D technologies is truly bringing new possibilities and improves the work of professionals from both the medical and criminal fields.


Maybe you don’t have a criminal or medical-related 3D printing project, but you can still use 3D technologies to your benefits! It’s as easy as uploading your 3D file to our online 3D printing service.


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