by Jia-Jheng Yeh
3D Printing Found Everywhere? Medical Applications in Taiwan
With the rise of personalized precision medicine and 3D printing technology, there have been new tools and technologies that are bridging the gap between physicians and patients. The applications of 3D printing, in particular, in the medial field include manufacturing customized assistive models for simulation before the surgery and designing assistive devices for patients.
Features and advantages of 3D printing
3D printing features additive manufacturing (AM) that constructs a three-dimensional object from a computer-aided design (CAD) model with material being added together layer by layer. Its advantages include:
- High flexibility in structural design: Complex structures can be printed without the need to worry about cutting or demolding.
- Lower production costs for small volume: Costs for developing molds can be saved and the use of materials can be reduced in low-volume manufacturing.
- Rapid molding for customized products: Customized products can be completed within a few hours to several days according to the density and the size of the model.
Customized assistive devices to meet user needs
Generally, assistive devices are purchased in a store or tailor-made. However, due to different body structure among individuals, quite often that people are not able to find devices that perfectly fit their size and needs, or they usually cost more and take longer time to build. In recent years, 3D printing technology has become more advanced where there is flexibility in structural design and the cost is much lower in production of smaller amounts. Many occupational therapists also take advantage of this technology to customize assistive devices and take into account conditions of patients, so that the products can meet the needs of users.
3D-printed models to for a closer look at patient’s conditions
In the past, when surgeons were performing complex surgeries, they could only examine human tissues through pieces of medical images put together. However, with 3D printing that features models built with materials added and fused together layer by layer with the help of CAD, physicians are now able to print out the entire human tissue such as bones, cells, and blood vessels. In this way, before the surgery, patients can get a clear picture and physicians can have more accurate information, which greatly improves the success rate of surgery. An example would be patients that require intramedullary rod to fix broken bones due to fractures, deformations, or scoliosis. With 3D printing, nails can be inserted into bones more accurately and possible damages to important tissues or organs can be avoided.
3D printing technologies have become rather mature to produce the physical models required for various clinical situations. In terms of material cost and delivery efficiency, 3D printing is better than traditional manufacturing that is expensive and time-consuming. It is believed that 3D printing will continue to play an important role in the medical field.