Categories: Innovation

3D Printing Now ‘Mainstream’ In Health Care

3D printing is advancing rapidly in the medical field, and has already become well-established in areas such as the production of hearing aids and dental devices, according to analyst firm Gartner.

The technology, which facilitates the nearly instant production of devices based on a computer model, is seeing some of its “most significant” deployments in the medical field, and is “mainstream” in some fields, Gartner said.

Tailored devices

“In the healthcare industry, (3D printing) is already in mainstream use to produce medical items that need to be tailored to individuals, such as hearing aids and dental devices,” stated Gartner research director Pete Basiliere.

All of the major hearing-aid manufacturers now offer devices with a personalised shape.

“This is evidence that using 3DP for mass customisation of consumer goods is now viable, especially given that the transition from traditional manufacturing in this market took less than two years,” Basiliere stated. “Routine use of 3DP for dental implants is also not far from this level of market maturity.”

Printing living tissue

Gartner said it expects the technology to be in “mainstream” use in the $15bn (£9.54bn) hip and knee replacement industry in two to five years. The company said trials have indicated personalised 3D-printed replacements provide improved healing times and function of the implant as well as an improved success rate in more complex operations.

Three hip replacement operations using 3D-printed parts took place in England last year.

The firm said it expects bioprinting – the use of 3D printing to produce living, personalised tissues for human transplant – to become more widespread over the next five or 10 years.

Bioprinting is currently limited to specialist research systems which require high maintenance, but Gartner said it expects these systems to become more diverse in their functions in the coming years, leading to mainstream adoption.

The US Food and Drug Administration for the first time approved the use of 3D printing in the manufacturing of medicines earlier this month. The drug involved uses ZipDose powder-liquid three-dimensional printing (3DP) technology from American firm Aprecia, which creates premeasured, spill-proof unit-doses designed to disintegrate in the mouth with a sip of liquid.

Consumer adoption

Outside of the medical field, Gartner said the arrival of easier-to-use, consumer-oriented 3D computer aided design (CAD) software, along with consumer-oriented design libraries and modelling tools, should help 3D printing spread more broadly.

The company said 3D scanners are becoming more widely available for lower prices, making it easier for users to create complex models of printable items without the use of CAD programs.

Gartner also highlighted the spread of 3D printing service bureaus, which allow users to make use of the technology without having to invest in high-end systems themselves.

“Technologies such as 3D scanning, 3D print creation software and 3D printing service bureaus are all maturing quickly, and all — in their own way — have the potential to make high quality 3DP more accessible and affordable,” Basiliere stated.

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Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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