3D Printing, PolyJet Technology, Medical

Evolution of 3D Printing in the Medical Industry

By Alex Pestana on December 8, 2020

When we talk about 3D printing, we often highlight its benefits in traditional manufacturing for prototypes, jigs, fixtures, end of arm tooling, etc. While these are all great applications to point out, additive processes have benefits in every industry. In this article, we focus on the medical industry and showcase a few areas where additive has helped reshape the field and continues to provide a lasting impact.

Medical Devices

Everything from blood sugar monitors to equipment to transfer organs for emergency transplants go through hundreds of revisions before being put out in the field. There is a need to rapidly produce prototypes that can withstand functional testing as well as have a good fit and finish to better help in the design process. Utilizing Stratasys FDM and PolyJet technology, users are able to create functional models using FDM’s real thermoplastics while also using PolyJet technology for high precision fit and finish models.

At the University of California San Francisco’s DeRisi Lab, scientists investigate viruses and parasites whose victims range from tiny insects to large populations of humans. The lab has researched malaria drugs, identified bee viruses and released software that assembles viral genomes. One of the issues they run into is obtaining fixtures to hold various samples for observation under a microscope or running through a centrifuge. By utilizing FDM printing, they are able to create the custom fit fixtures without having to rely on an outside supplier for a fraction of the cost.

Centrifuge created using FDM technology

Example of a centrifuge created using FDM technology

>> Infographic: Designing for Medical Devices

Surgical Models

Creating surgical models help surgeons better understand a patient's anatomy before they go in for surgery. This not only helps the surgeon better plan for surgeries but also helps patients see exactly what the surgeon is going to do which helps ease some anxiety. Typically, these models are made from silicone, so they do not have the same feel and feedback that human tissue. They also are usually standard anatomy, meaning surgeons don’t have a 1:1 representation of their patient’s anatomy.

J750 Digital Anatomy PrinterThe J750 Digital Anatomy Printer (DAP) aims to solve this problem. By creating voxel structuring using DAP specific materials, the model then has the same feel as real human bone and tissue. A voxel is like a 3D pixel, it’s the smallest area in which a PolyJet machine can dispense resin. Being able to control the softness and rigidness on such a small level allows the parts to achieve their feel of real anatomy. These structures are auto-generated, so all a doctor has to do is take in their segmented anatomy, import into GrabCAD Print and assign the desired anatomy to the areas they would like.

While being able to create patient-specific anatomy using the J750 Digital Anatomy is a huge benefit, another benefit is the reduction in cadaver use. A cadaver is a deceased body (usually human or pig) that is used to test various types of surgical and medical devices. Not only is the ethics of cadaver testing a concern, but there is a huge cost to obtain, store and dispose of them correctly. Creating these models using PolyJet technology can cut down dramatically on the cost without any ethical concerns.

Heart valve models printed on Stratasys J750 Digital Anatomy Printer

Several heart valve models made on the J750 Digital Anatomy Printer

Bioprinting

Bioprinting is the processing of additively generating tissue through printing with cells. While still in its early stages, it is becoming an ever-growing area in the medical industry. Bioprinting works the same as a more typical additive process. But where a typical process uses plastics or resins, bioprinting uses “bio-inks” which are filled with different types of cells. These printed cell structures are then left to grow in an incubator before final use. The main application today is in use for skin graphs for burn patients, but we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible with bioprinting. We may see bioprinting make huge advancements in drug production and the creation of artificial organs in the future.

The medical industry is booming and the addition of various additive technologies, like the Stratasys J750 Digital Anatomy, is only going to accelerate the boom. These advancements not only help drive costs down and help products come out faster, but they also help potentially saving lives in the process. As the medical industry continues to evolve, additive will be there to evolve with it.

Want to learn more about the impact of 3D printing on the medical industry? Watch our on-demand webinar, How 3D Printing is Disrupting the Medical Industry.

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