be converted to printable files. These can
be printed in multiple materials and colors
to offer surgeons a practice run before
operating on a live patient.
Surgeons report increased efficiency
in the operating room as a result of these
practice models. Peter Denmark, sales
head for Envisiontec, says surgeons report
several minutes of savings from the use of
surgical guides before entering the OR.
“When you consider that an hour in
the OR may cost $15,000, saving just a few
minutes can drive some very meaningful
efficiency savings,” Denmark says.
Bills are being reviewed in Congress that
may facilitate increased insurance coverage
for such prints, which would accelerate
adoption of the technology in hospital
environments, according to Denmark.
The frontier seems to be multi-material
printing in the thermosets world. Stratasys
unveiled its multi-material Connex J750
earlier this year, capable of printing with
up to six materials and more than 360,000
colors to allow for complex anatomical
models. Its competition has not yet followed suit with machines providing similar
levels of multi-material printing, although
this is something to watch.
Metal material suppliers started developing
their products with an eye to the aerospace industry, but in recent years have
been expanding their offerings to meet the
demands of the medical market.
Powder bed printing is the default
printing process for metal medical parts.
Using either a laser (e.g., DMLS, SLM,
LaserCUSING) or an Electron Beam
(EBM) system, powdered metal is selectively melted, layer-by-layer, to build a
part. Printed metal implants are growing
in popularity, due in part to the ability to
build parts to fit particular anatomies. In
addition, the natural surface roughness of
powder bed printing has been found to
accelerate osteointegration. The biggest announcements in this area have come from
Europe and Australia, although significant
movement has been taking place in the US
with the FDA’s recent draft guidance to
A variety of stainless steels with strong
anticorrosive properties are available, most
notably 316 and 17-4, which are typically
processed using laser systems. Titanium
alloys, which are printed by both laser and
electron beam systems, are also prevalent
in the medical space, with applications
across instrumentation and implants.
Ti6AlV4 and Ti6AlV4 ELI are two alloys
that are popular for things like spinal implants, acetabular hip cups, and knee joints.
Recent announcements include
commercially pure titanium, which some
doctors believe facilitates faster integration
with bone structures, although clinical data
is still being gathered to see if that hypothesis is correct. Cobalt chrome is another
material that sees use, although not with
the frequency of titanium.
With respect to the future, 3D printer
OEMs are generally mum on which
materials are on the way, although they
are active in encouraging the market to
highlight which materials they’d like to see
commercialized next. It’s also expected that
the growing number of metal machines
which provide more open architectures
will allow for the development and printing of bespoke alloys for hyper-specific
Cullen Hilkene co-founded 3Diligent, the
B2B Marketplace for industrial-grade 3D
printing and rapid manufacturing and serves
as the company’s chief executive officer. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Figure 2. Printed anatomical bodies, like this full-size and miniature liver with
cancerous bodies (blue), allow surgeons to analyze and practice surgeries before
entering the OR. Photo Credit: 3Diligent
Figure 3. Printed parts designed to interface with a rib cage. Photo Credit: CSIRO