3DAnatomical Models
Hebei University (Michelle, 2018)

Additive manufacturing in medical devices

The incorporation of AM in medical devices manufacture brought some innovations that show its benefits to the industry.

October 10, 2021

Additive manufacturing (AM) is the process used in industrial production to create parts and systems layer by layer to make one final part. The process is also known as 3D printing. Additive manufacturing means the addition of materials to create objects. Materials are added layer by layer to bring out the final object. Materials used in the manufacturing process entail plastic, metal, and concrete. Also, scientists think that in the future, human tissue can also be used in additive manufacturing. There are chances that scientists might be able to produce human tissues. Many industries such as aerospace, motor vehicle, medicine, and dental use the 3D printing process. Additive manufacturing comprises processes like photopolymerization, material jetting, and material extrusion, among others. Although 3D printing has simpler ways of making parts faster, the production cost is very high. However, the medical field has incorporated additive manufacturing in creating medical devices, bringing some innovations that show its benefits to the industry.

© Michelle, 2018 |
Aspect Biosystems 3D Bioprinter 

Innovation in medical devices
For some years, additive manufacturing in medicine has mainly entailed medical models, surgical implants, surgical guides, external aids, and biomanufacturing. 3D printing technology in medical models involves incorporating other objects through computer-aided design (Javaid & Haleem, 2018). Patients have individual models that are in 3-dimensional sections (3D), which are developed through customized software. The said patient models include implants, soft tissues, and foreign bodies. The AM involves Magnetic Resonances Imaging (MRI) used for model-data capturing (Javaid & Haleem, 2018). Fabrication is an AM process used after a patient product is customized and designed to create an ideal fit for the implant. After the ideal fit of the implant is created, the virtual mode is completed. The completion of the virtual mode then leads to the translation of data. Data is translated into a certain format which increases prototyping through machines (Javaid & Haleem, 2018). Besides, satisfactory skeleton models are achieved through AM, which are used to show the basic ideas in medicine.

© Michelle, 2018 |
3D printing artificial heart 

Besides, AM has been very successful, and that is why scientists are coming up with innovations to modify it. Recently, there has been a need to improve additive manufacturing to serve medicine in many areas. One of the recent innovations of the AM in medicine has been improving Rapid Manufacturing (RM). Improved RM has greater design freedom whereby models and shapes can be in many designs. Also, improved RM has the tooling absence (Robinson et al., 2019). AM machines can produce complex designs that other manufacturing machines cannot. Tooling absence means that AM reduces the time spent on marketing for low-quantity products. Advanced AM has enabled rapid manufacturing, which has been used in dentistry to create patient dental aligners (Robinson et al., 2019). In addition, in hearing, there has been the production of patient-specific hearing aids. Improved RM is beneficial since some medical devices like hearing aids that are patient-specific are of major help to the deaf community.

Moreover, a new antibacterial compound for 3D printing parts is another AM innovation. The 3D printing parts that can kill common bacteria were created by adding a silver-based antibacterial compound at the production phase (Bell, 2020). The process of incorporating the compound into existing 3D printing materials is believed to have the capability to be used in developing medical device products. Again, the innovation can be used in hospital settings and other environments to kill bacteria. The innovation is helpful as it kills bacteria that would otherwise cause harm to people’s health. AM improvement in the medical devices is of great help because other medical devices are made with an error which does not guarantee killing of all bacteria in a surrounding. So, the antibacterial compound can protect susceptible patients in clinics and home care by stopping infection spread.

Further, the COVID-19 test swab is another innovation. The COVID-19 pandemic discovered in 2019 has been challenging to manage since it affected millions of people worldwide. Tests were being taken in small quantities hence the excess spread of the virus. AM made it easier for quick COVID-19 test swab production when the American company, Markforged, presented its 3D printed nasopharyngeal swab (Bell,2020). The swab was designed through a combination of a 3D printed nylon base and a wrapped rayon tip. The combination was used to gather viral specimens. When comparing the results taken through the 3D printed swab and the commercial swabs, the 3D printed was seen to be effective since the correct results were obtained.

In addition, 3D printing has made it possible to print sensors directly on moving organs and accessible prosthetic arms. The process was managed by printing hydrogel-based sensors on organs like the lungs (Bell,2020). Lungs were used because they have the capability of contracting and expanding. Thus, the AM innovation can diagnose and monitor patients with lung problems or patients with COVID-19. Also, the accessible prosthetic arm was made available via a 3D printing remote process (Bell, 2020). The prosthetic arm and the patient-specific hearing aid are meant to help people whose arms were amputated and those with hearing problems.

© Michelle, 2018 |
A hearing aid printed in 3D 

Benefits of 3D printing
First, 3D printing is beneficial in the medical field as it is used in product development. In the production of medical devices, AM helps in reducing the product development cost and time used (Javaid & Haleem, 2018). Also, AM is a useful tool that increases product development. In addition, AM explores diverse uses in medicine. For instance, the technology is employed in new organ creation and operation practice (Javaid & Haleem, 2018). Second, a reduction in the need for manufacturing products in parts is attained through the use of AM. In short, AM enables one to produce the components in a single piece rather than in many pieces. Third, 3D printing creates higher quality medical device products than the other methods used in product development. High-quality device products are useful as they are used in hospitals to help cure patients or reduce their vulnerability. Most importantly, 3D printing creates shapes and components that would not be possible using the other manufacturing techniques. Lastly, AM speeds up the process of prototyping since changes can be made and corrected quickly. Besides, the speed of making changes in AM makes it ideal for mass customization.

Moreover, AM has been largely beneficial in the medical field because it has helped in complex operations. That has been achieved by training future doctors through 3D imaging to see what they will be working on. Also, 3D printing shows the image of actual organs, which makes it easier for doctors to be trained. In addition, AM largely assists in the preparation of future operations. Preparation is made simpler since 3D printing provides models that look real; hence doctors in practice have the knowledge and understanding of what they will deal with. Besides, 3D printing has brought about advanced technology which enables doctors to increase their skills. The skills can be increased through practice on 3D printing organs (Javaid & Haleem, 2018). Also, intricate care has been another benefit of AM. AM has enabled the creation of affordable and accessible prosthetics for people who need them. For example, many people lose their feet or legs in warzone areas due to bombings and shootings. The amputated legs and feet can be replaced with prosthetics (Bell, 2020). Finally, 3D printing is accessible even in remote areas whereby the medical equipment is printed.

ConclusionThe incorporation of AM in medical devices manufacture brought some innovations that show its benefits to the industry. One of the innovations of AM in medical devices is improving rapid manufacturing. Improved rapid manufacturing has been seen to have broader design liberty and the nonexistence of tooling. Advanced AM has also enabled the creation of patient-specific hearing aids and specific dental aligners. Other innovations have been manufacturing COVID-19 test swabs, a new antibacterial compound, and printing sensors directly into moving organs. COVID-19 test swabs were manufactured through 3D printing nylon combination with rayon tips. Besides, AM has been beneficial in the medical field in many ways. One of the benefits brought about by AM is that it is used in product development. In the production of medical devices, AM helps in reducing the costs and time used. Also, a reduction in the need for manufacturing products in parts is achieved through additive manufacturing. One product is made instead of the creation of a lot of product parts. Again, AM creates shapes and components that would not be possible using the other manufacturing techniques. Other benefits of 3D printing in the medical field include enabling complex operations, advanced technology which improves doctor skills, provision of intricate care, and accessibility in remote areas. AM has enabled intricate care through the creation of affordable prosthetics for amputees. Finally, 3D printing makes medical equipment accessible even in remote areas without having to transport them.

Bell, J. (2020). Five major 3D printing innovations seen in the medical sector this year. NS Medical Devices. Retrieved 24 August 2021, from
Javaid, M., & Haleem, A. (2018). Additive manufacturing applications in medical cases: A literature-based review. Alexandria Journal Of Medicine, 54(4), 411-422.
Michelle, J. (2018). 3D Printing: The New Tool Available to Doctors - 3Dnatives. 3Dnatives. Retrieved 25 August 2021, from! 
Robinson, D., Lagnau, A., & Boon, W. (2019). Innovation pathways in additive manufacturing: Methods for tracing emerging and branching paths from rapid prototyping to alternative applications. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 146, 733-750.