3D Printing in Medical Device Development

3D printing is the process of making a physical three-dimensional object from a digital file or CAD model. The use of 3D printing in medical device design provides flexibility in creating a wide range of customizable parts and the ability to tailor specifically to a patient’s need. Through an additive process, the object is created by laying down successive layers of material until completion. Each layer can be seen as a thinly sliced cross section of the object. A slice is the product of the digital model is breaking down and slicing into hundreds or thousands of layers. Once your file is sliced, the slices are ready to be uploaded to the 3D printer to be built. Medical device developers use this process to print a variety of devices such orthopedic and cranial implants, surgical instruments, and external prosthetics. 3D printed parts also allow for adjustments to be made throughout the design process to quickly pivot instead of having to start over from scratch. 

How is 3D printing making medical device design more efficient? 

3D printing has been propelling innovative medical device development solutions from R&D to production. Through additive manufacturing, full devices and parts are able to be created from multiple small pieces of material. With 3D printing, prototypes can be created quickly and provide almost unlimited freedom in what can be created. It does not require tooling, and parts that are being produced closely match the mechanical properties of those built with traditional manufacturing methods. With the benefit of no tooling, custom parts and complex designs can be streamlined in a cost-efficient manner.  

Applications of 3D printing in Healthcare

  • Personalized medical devices 
  • Implantable medical devices (cranial, orthopedic) 
  • Surgical implants 
  • Dental restorations (crowns) 
  • External prosthetics
  • Complex medical device manufacturing

Advancements and Innovations in 3D printing  

A key innovation in 3D printing is on-demand production. The ability to create a part on the spot leads to development and supply times being drastically reduced. 3D printing is changing the way prostheses are being created. Limbs and body parts can now be produced in highly customizable forms that match specifically to the patient. The growth of 3D printing has led to further advancements in bioprinting, which can be used to create bodily structures such as bones and skin. 

Benefits of 3D Printing  

3D printing can reduce both cost and time to market for medical device developers and manufacturers. You no longer need to wait for parts to arrive and pay extra for materials from third-party vendors. For the healthcare industry, 3D printing can drastically reduce costs when it comes to creating prosthetics and surgical instruments. This helps combat the general rise of healthcare costs, benefiting the end user or patient. In addition, 3D printing requires only the materials needed for the part itself, creating little to no waste compared to traditional methods. Depending on the design, 3D printing can complete an object within hours, which is a much faster alternative than traditional molded or machine parts. This contributes to fast design and production which is a critical benefit when it comes to medical device development and manufacturing.  

Challenges of 3D printing in Medical Device Development 

With 3D printing being relatively new, there are currently no set of rules and regulations to ensure that the parts and devices created using 3D printers are safe and effective. Another challenge is overhead cost, the machine itself can be thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. 

Gilero’s 3D Printing Capabilities 

With in-house 3D printing capabilities, Gilero’s facilities have the equipment necessary to build highly customizable prototypes for medical and drug delivery device components.  We can create prototypes that look like and feel like finished products to help shorten the lead time for design iteration while evaluating the form, fit and function of the device. In-house prototyping also provides insight into manufacturing methods and costs, potentially leading to lower production costs and a smoother transition into finished device manufacturing.  

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