The evolution of 3D printing technology has been considerable. Find out how Formlabs Form 2 SLA desktop 3D printer is helping in medical applications.
Medical applications for 3D printing have expanded markedly since the pioneering days of customised dental implants and prosthetics in the early 2000s. Further advances have led to the use of the technology in a wide variety of other medical purposes - for example, tissue and organs fabrication, anatomical models for surgical preparation, and drug development and delivery.
The evolution of 3D printing technology has been considerable and it's revolutionising the healthcare industry. The potential benefits are endless. Not only is it enabling scientists to develop more individualised drugs, devices and other equipment, it is transforming the design and manufacturing process, and improving the cost-effectiveness.
Growing use of 3D printing in medical applications
A Wohlers Report suggests that while the impact of 3D printing in medicine remained relatively small in 2013. The overall market was worth almost A$1 billion, with just A$15 million of that (less than 2 per cent) spent on medical applications. However, it is predicted to grow to around A$12 billion in the next 10 years, with about US$2.7 billion (about 20 per cent) invested in such applications.
The main types of 3D printers that have been used to create medical products include fused filament fabrication (FFF), stereolithography (SLA) and selective laser sintering (SLS).
Let's take a look at how the Formlabs Form 2 SLA 3D printer is playing a growing role in medical applications around the world.
Examples of how the Form 2 has been used
There are numerous examples of 3D printing being used to create products with a healthcare purpose, particularly in the areas of organ fabrication and prosthetics.
Reviews have been published describing the use of 3D printing in the production of a wide variety of facial, hand and limb prosthetics, as well as internal structures like bones, cell cultures, vascular networks, tissues and major organs.
A recent report described in detail the use of Form 2 3D printers by an American named Lyman Connor, who has leveraged upon the technology to design and manufacture hand prosthetics for those in need.
Mr Connor has designed a customisable bionic hand that can be manufactured and sold for a fraction of the price of top-of-the-line models available on the market - which can be as high as US$70,000. From a small facility using four Form 2 3D printers, he completed and fitted his first production prosthesis in 2016, and his objective now is to create hands for 30 more patients in 2017.
"There's no reason these devices have to be so expensive. I want to flip the whole paradigm with respect to who gets prosthesis, what type of prosthesis you get and the lifecycle associated with them," Mr Connor said.
"I don't need milling machines, I don't need all this other pie-in-the-sky $70,000 pieces of equipment. I have everything that I need. It's kind of like an assembly line ... One of the most exciting aspects of this project is where I am at right now. I initially set out to help one person, and now I've realised that I can impact the lives of thousands of people."
Many different types of prosthetic hands are available - from hooks to bionic devices. These devices are designed to mimic real hand grips and movements, the functions of which are often controlled myoelectrically - by the person's residual limb muscles.
Traditionally, prosthetics have only come in a limited range of sizes. However, Mr Connor's designs are customised to each individual patient.
Form 2 makes this possible with its high-definition printing capabilities, the minimal work required post-printing, and by enabling quick iteration through different designs without the cost of traditional prototyping.