The Applications of 3D printing are emerging almost every day, and this technology continues to grow and penetrate more widely and deeply across industrial sectors, as of today, we are only just beginning to see the true potential of 3D printing. The rapid rise of 3D printing has presented the healthcare industry with a massive opportunity. 3D printing could considerably enhance personalization within the healthcare industry. Patients in the past, feel that they are on a manufacturing conveyor belt, failing to receive optimum attention to their needs. With 3D printing, they could receive highly customized medical products, with far more accurate treatment. While 3D printing may not offer the fix all solution, yet it makes medical care more affordable, accessible and attainable.
Healthcare centres can test the 3D printed medical device in early prototype stages and get feedback instantly and improve the design iterations before the final production of the product. Subsequently, time to market of new medical devices is shortening significantly, meaning more patients can get benefit from these innovations. As healthcare requires fast-paced actions to enable rapid decision making in patient care, 3D printing can offer disruptive technologies in a cost-efficient manner.
An estimated 80% of the world’s disabled people live in developing countries. Persons with physical disabilities, who have a need for prosthetics/orthotics and related rehabilitation services in developing countries, represent 0.5% of the total population. Most them are poor and find difficulty in accessing appropriate health and rehabilitation services. This leads to their exclusion from society. With appropriate rehabilitation services, most people with disabilities can become critical contributors to the society and allocating resources to their rehabilitation is a long-term investment.
Low-cost 3D printers are being used in war-torn developing countries, such as the Sudan and Uganda, to make prosthetics for amputees, of which there are 50,000 in Sudan alone.
As the numerous applications of 3D printed materials in healthcare industry increase, the area of prosthetics is something that has been impacted by the rapid advancement of 3D printing. The prosthesis has been around for a long time but until recently very basic design and functionality. In addition, the cost of the prosthetics is prohibitive and out of reach of many in resource-poor communities across the world. Now with the improvements in 3D printing, this has heralded a new wave of inexpensive yet state of the art prosthesis. This has increased the availability and patients can have customized options which are less expensive than the conventionally manufactured prosthesis. Thanks to the rapid turnaround time, it can be possible to produce personalized prosthetic prototypes. The researchers at U.S Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory used a 3D printer to produce a prosthetic hand with miniature hydraulics that moves the fingers-The hydraulics rely on the network of integrated ducts in the prosthesis- with no drilling holes necessary.
The medical industry presents with a broad range of opportunities for innovative products, cost saving, and applications in resource-poor communities using 3D printing. The technology is currently well developed and continues to advance, with rapidly falling costs and prices, however for 3D printing to get on mainstream adoption in the healthcare industry- there are still significant hurdles. In the medical industry, the applications are far reaching whether it is printing of organs or prosthetic arm.
Heater B. Inexpensive 3D Limbs Could Bring New Hope to Sudan’s 50,000 Amputees. Yahoo! Tech. (2014). www.yahoo. com/tech/inexpensive-3d-limbs-could-bring-new-hope-tosudans-75055744752.html
Image: Oak Ridge National Laboratory Review
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