The use of additive manufacturing, commonly known as “3D printing,” is growing across many industries. Analysts estimate the overall 3D printing market will reach $30.19 billion by 2022. With the ongoing need to reduce health care costs, 3D printing has great potential to deliver superb, customized results in a cost-effective manner.
As an additive process, 3D printing builds three-dimensional objects from a digital model by placing successive layers of material on top of one another. Additive processes entail less waste than other manufacturing processes that rely on the removal of material by carving or drilling. A 3D design can be refined on the computer or in prototype before broader production, which also reduces costs. 3D printed items can be customized easily to fit patients’ specific physical requirements.
Some of the newest medical applications for 3D printing include:
- Organs – Bioprinted livers are being tested and can function for a limited time. Researchers believe within a decade 3D-printed organs such as livers, hearts and kidneys will eliminate organ donation waiting lists impacting hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
- Bones and body parts – 3D-printed parts such as heart valves, cranial bones and ear cartilage allow surgeons to produce custom-fitted components quickly and at much lower cost.
- Implants – Biodegradable implants are being created to help cure bone infections and bone cancer. 3D printing is binding compound chemicals with ceramic powder to promote bone growth.
- Customized casts – 3D-printed casts have been found to allow bones to heal 40% to 80% faster than when traditional casts are used.
- Skin and tissues – Surgeons now can 3D print skin grafts directly onto the wounds of burn victims. Tissues are being created that are interwoven with structural material that can function as blood vessels.
- Artificial limbs – 3D printers are being used in war zones to create inexpensive, custom-fitted prosthetics for people with amputated limbs. The process is being used with facial scanning software to create facial prosthetics for patients with eye cancer.
- Cancer research – Scientists are creating 3D models of cancer tumors to test new drug therapies and better understand how tumors form, grow and spread.
- Drugs – Customized drugs can be compounded easily using 3D printing. The process can create pills in unique shapes that alter a drug’s release rate in the human body.
 “3D Printing Market Worth 30.19 billion USD by 2022,” press release issued in April 2016 on research report issued by Markets and Markets. Available at: http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/3d-printing.asp
 Compiled from these references:
- “3D Printing Is Already Changing Health Care,” by Drew Hendricks, Harvard Business Review, March 4, 2016. Available at: https://hbr.org/2016/03/3d-printing-is-already-changing-health-care
- “Twelve Things We Can 3D Print in Medicine Now,” The Medical Futurist blog, undated. Available at: http://medicalfuturist.com/twelve-things-we-can-3d-print-in-medicine-now/
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