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How 3D Printing is Driving Customization in the Medical Field

3D printing technologies are becoming more widely adopted in the medical field because they are affordable, fast, and offer personalization to patients. Though industrial 3D printing can be used to mass produce certain products for the medical industry, the real advantage of this technology is its customization capabilities.

Bespoke 3D printed products have numerous applications within the medical sector. This technology enables greater customization for prosthetics and orthotics, and can create replacement body parts, exoskeletons, and baby helmets, just to name a few uses.

“Anything that is customizable to the individual is really where 3D printing works well in the medical field,” explains Neil Glazebrook, VP of 3D Solutions at ABCorp 3D. Glazebrook’s 3D printing division has a lot of experience working with the medical industry. They’ve made customized insoles, robotics hands, leg prosthetics – even an Iron Man arm for a child.

“When a patient needs something uniquely developed for them, 3D printing can do that. On a robotic arm, for example, we can make it different colors to better match skin tone, or put a person’s tattoo on the prosthetic,” Glazebrook explains.

Using 3D printing in the medical field benefits both patients and providers. Though it’s a newer technology, its impact on the industry is already noticeable and will continue to grow.

Leveraging 3D Printing in the Medical Field

The advancement of additive manufacturing technologies like 3D printing and 3D scanning has made the technology more accessible for medical professionals. One example of this is in the dental industry, which has a myriad of use cases for 3D printing.

According to Glazebrook, some dentists even have 3D printers in their offices and are able to print customized dental products, such as caps and mouth guards, while the patient waits. This example highlights the improved turnaround times for 3D printed medical devices and how industrial 3D printing can improve patient experiences.

Despite these advantages, Glazebrook estimates only about 25% of doctors are currently utilizing 3D printing technologies. He explains that some doctors aren’t looking into the technology, and others are trying to use additive manufacturing but don’t know enough about it. However, there are several reasons medical professionals should consider 3D printing technologies.

“You're using less labor. You're producing a much more comfortable product for the patient. With 3D printing you have design freedom,” Glazebrook explains. “3D technologies can help create a better device for tens of thousands of dollars less than traditional manufacturing methods.”

Medical professionals who leverage 3D printing can offer their patients customized medical devices that match their unique physical characteristics. The capabilities of this technology provide significant benefits to patients that will lead to business growth and an improved reputation for medical providers.

Customization Benefits for Patients

Medical professionals should embrace 3D printing technologies not only for themselves but also for the benefits to patients. Everyone has a unique physiology and personalized medical devices often lead to better patient outcomes. Customization also doesn’t have to come at an increased cost for the patient, as the additive manufacturing process used in 3D printing is often a more cost-effective option.

“3D printing and scanning technology has improved immensely over the years,” Glazebrook notes. “Tolerances have improved, costs have decreased – we use equipment today that cost less than $100,000. Ten years ago, the same machine would have cost over a million dollars. The technology is so much more cost-effective now.”

In addition to being more affordable, personalized medical devices fit better to the patient and allow for more functionality. For example, modern 3D printed prosthetics are lightweight and more realistic-looking compared to older models. The customization capabilities offered by 3D printing allow amputees to have a body part that matches their personality and allows them to feel more confident.

“There are so many benefits to the patient with 3D printed medical devices,” says Glazebrook, “and these positive patient outcomes will drive wider adoption of 3D technologies in the medical field.”

The Future of Medical 3D Printing

Though the medical field is still working on fully adopting additive manufacturing technologies, Glazebrook predicts usage will increase exponentially in the next 10 years. He sees the process for developing customized medical devices becoming more digitized.

“There are still companies out there that are hand-making leg braces, but the more advanced companies are looking at 3D printing and identifying how to transition that craftmanship into a digital design,” Glazebrook explains.

With everything becoming digital, Glazebrook sees even more customization for medical devices. From surgical devices to insoles to prosthetics – 3D printing is enabling personalization for all of it.

“3D technologies will continue to have a significant effect on the medical field, helping to improve the patient experience, facilitate faster recovery, and create more comfortable, attractive devices,” states Glazebrook.

If you want to learn more about 3D printing in the medical field, check out ABCorp’s 3D printing solutions. And don’t miss North America’s largest additive manufacturing and industrial 3D printing event: RAPID + TCT.

Neil Glazebrook

Neil Glazebrook, VP of 3D Solutions at ABCorp

ABCorp is a secure on-demand manufacturer of 3D printing parts from low to high-volume production using the HP MJF solutions and automated robotics and inspection technology. With over 26 years in manufacturing, Neil has previously worked as a director of Sales and Operations, Mold & Coating Manager, Capital Additive Sales, HP Product Manager, and CNC Programmer in the job shops and injection molding industry. Neil holds a BS in Business and Law from Curry College of Milton, MA, and he currently resides in central Massachusetts. His goal is to bring manufacturing closer to ABCorp’s customers with enterprise-scale manufacturing on-demand using the latest technology in 3D printing, robotics, and inspection.