3D Printing for Medical
Devices: Benefits and
By Ron Clemons,
Stratasys Direct Manufacturing
3D printing offers medical device and part manufacturers many ad- vantages. For one, the technology
is ideal for low-volume runs that would
otherwise be prohibitively expensive
via traditional manufacturing. Complex
medical devices, models and other parts
can be quickly built without design restraints. These advantages are especially
impactful in an industry where quality,
efficacy and speed-to-market directly
impacts the health of patients.
But it’s not enough to know about
the technology’s benefits.
For the medical industry’s 3D
printing professionals, from materials
and processes to design and finishing
requirements, it’s critical to understand
projects holistically. Doing so will not
only prevent potential budget overruns and headaches, but it will also
strengthen internal know-how. When
identifying opportunities to 3D print
parts, here are a few key considerations
3D printing professionals in the medical
industry should consider:
Define the application, then choose
a process and material
Clearly defining a part’s intended
application is an important first step.
It will determine what process and
corresponding materials make the most
sense for a project.
For companies wanting parts with
realistic and intricate features (e.g.
models), technologies such as PolyJet
and Stereolithography (SL) are popular
choices. One organization, the Aus-tin-based Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia
Institute, has used SL to quickly create
true-to-life and detailed heart models
from patient CT scans.
But, they’re not just used for display.
Because these models are nearly
identical to patients’ hearts, they help
doctors prepare for surgeries by offering
critical insights into a heart’s structure,
leading to improved patient safety and
efficacy of the procedure.
3D printed parts can not only look
realistic, they can also feel realistic.
Thanks to material advancements, the
Walter E. Dandy Neurological Society
(an educational and training forum for
neurological surgeons), used PolyJet
to create models replicating patients’
skulls and brain patterns. The inner
brain matter consisted of specially for-
mulated gelatinous colloid material that
resembles the brain’s spongey tissue.
Doctors at the Society can operate on
these replications, which preliminary
results have proven to help identify and
overcome surgical challenges.
3D printing in the medical sphere
extends beyond concept modeling and
prototyping. More manufacturers are
turning to 3D printing for functional
production parts. This can be accomplished by using a variety of processes
including Fused Deposition Modeling
The Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute utilized 3D printing to create accurate models of
their patients’ hearts before performing surgery.