In the world of medicine, patients and physicians are receiving more and more support from additive manufacturing. This support is a must because it makes life a lot easier for some and work a lot easier for others.
An excellent example is a topic that was already one of the first successes from the combination of additive manufacturing and medical technology: replacement joints and bone implants. Additive manufacturing has achieved great progress and success here. In the meantime, the question is no longer whether 3D printing can be used sensibly, but how processes can be accelerated and materials improved.
The application field of medicine for additive manufacturing is also becoming increasingly attractive from an economic point of view. Allied Market Research predicts global sales of 2.3 billion US dollars in this area by 2020.
The wide range of possible applications and development opportunities are already reflected in current research results: at the MIT, objects the size of common implants are created within a few minutes. With this production speed, it would be possible to measure a required implant to the nearest tenth of a millimeter during an ongoing operation, generate a digital 3D model and manufacture it in or at the hospital. It is no coincidence that an interesting trend can already be observed: 3D service providers set up shop close to hospitals - or hospitals install their own 3D printers in their facilities.
There has also been great progress in material development. Here, materials are sought that are antimicrobial, antiseptic and, seen over time, self-resolving at the decisive points. In contrast to general 3D printing in other areas, the search for optimal roughness and porosity is essential. Only then can the bone tissue interlock optimally with the implant or joint replacement and - ideally - replace it over time.
The forward-looking research results also include experiments in which eyes, blood vessels, liver and kidneys are created in the 3D printer. The most recent example is a functioning heart that was created at Tel Aviv University - but only the size of a cherry, and how many years could pass before something like this can really be used on a large scale, nobody is yet able to predict.
Both in Korea and at Newcastle University, researchers are focusing on corneal pressure, which could be used to control the overhang of necessary corneal transplants in the eye: About 12.5 million people could hope to be able to see (again) normally as a result, because about 69 patients are currently waiting eagerly for a corneal transplant. Current challenges still exist in the areas of consistency, durability and structure of the material.
The technologies, plants and the associated materials and process steps are manifold. In order to get an overview as efficiently as possible and to exchange ideas with the experts, a visit to Formnext, the leading trade fair for additive manufacturing and modern industrial production, from 10 – 13 November 2020 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany is highly recommended.
- Medical Technology