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Expert Insight

Which 3D printed material best represents the skull, and is it safe to drill?

This presentation will provide attendees with an improved understanding about the relationship between 3D printed materials for neurosurgical training and their safety.

We compared eight different materials (PETG, tPLA, FibreTuff®, White Resin, BoneSTN, SkullSTN, PA12, PA12-GF) and four 3D printing techniques (FFF, SLA, MJ, SLS) to find the best material for replicating a skull for performing burr hole drilling. Five experienced neurosurgeons performed burr hole drilling on each sample, which was developed from a CT scan, and assessed them for their mechanical, visual, and haptic attributes.

PETG, White Resin and BoneSTN received the most positive feedback based on five criteria. PETG was ranked highest due to better interior qualities using a gyroid infill to mimic the diploe. Interestingly, common FFF and SLA materials which were the lowest cost outperformed more expensive multi-material samples produced on industrial machines.

To confirm the safety of these materials for use training surgeons, we performed airborne particle tests (PM2.5 & PM10) and measured volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from drilling the top three materials. The particulate matter for PETG was found to be below the threshold value for PM10 and safe to use without any specific personal protective equipment (PPE). However, White resin and BoneSTN recorded unsafe levels of particulate matter, which could be harmful with prolonged exposure without appropriate PPE. The VOC measurements for all materials were found to be below the limit of detection and therefore not harmful to inhale while drilling.

The results of this study provide new insights into the appropriateness and safety of commonly available materials for 3D printing, and their use in 3D printing skulls for practical simulation to train neurosurgeons and upskill general surgeons.

The speaker is:
Nalinda Dissanayaka, PhD Candidate, University of Queensland


  • Medical technology