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Reimagining Healthcare With 3D Printing

Bruce Morey
By Bruce Morey Senior Technical Editor, SME Media

One of the highlights of the 3DHEALS 2020 virtual conference on June 6 and 7, 2020 was a keynote from Sam Onukuri, senior fellow at Johnson & Johnson 3D Printing. He explained how Johnson & Johnson is leveraging 3D printing technology to transform design, manufacturing and delivery across its medical device, consumer and pharmaceutical businesses. He also made a few predictions about the future of the technology in medical care.

Sam Onukuri

Emerging Customer Expectations

A number of factors are fueling an “urgency for change”, according to Onukuri. Key are ‘pay for value’, an aging population, market consolidation and risk, and changes in regulatory oversight. “Critical outcomes are going to be a lot more important for reimbursement or even adoption. Personalization and customization are broadly becoming very important with the access of digital technologies,” he said. “Not just in hospital systems, but in home-based [care] and ambulatory surgical centers [as well], so access becomes very, very important.”

Customers are demanding access and transparency in multiple ways. “People want to know their healthcare profile, they want to know what’s happening. So on-demand transparency is also important, enabled by a digital framework,” he said, which in turn enables 3D printing.

“Within Johnson & Johnson—and I think it’s true for all of us in this 3D printing community—there are five different areas this technology [enables],” he said. These are ultra-personalization, more design options (compared to conventional technologies), increased access, manufacturing speed and efficiency, and less waste coupled with more sustainable manufacturing operations.

He tasked his 3DHEALS 2020 audience to imagine solving every customer’s unique needs, including complex surgery, regenerative medicine and bioprinting, pharmaceuticals, and even beauty aids.


3D printing can be an integral element at point of care, enabled by a digital information ecosystem.

3D Printing Evolving

He stressed the importance of understanding the clinical needs that can be met uniquely with 3D printing. “Because it’s digital technology, a particular design can be customized and printed rapidly,” he said. Common items now made through 3D printing including surgical cutting guides, personalized implants for cancer patients, and craniomaxillofacial or joint implants. “Personalization can be done and delivered in a very quick manner and scaled very fast because 3D printing is such a versatile technology,” he said.

An emerging new business model is 3D printing at point of care, in the hospital or clinic. “One of the possibilities with this technology is to serve a patient from an entire journey through the hospital system, starting with an intake of a patient and being able to print anatomical models” through to post-operative care, he said. This ultra-personalized care could mean shorter surgical time and improved outcomes.

Building on the current base of technology, he predicts the future of 3D printing includes 3D bioprinting and tissue regeneration. “[Also], 3D printed sensors and electronics, that’s another space we are definitely working on, trying to collect data from patients and consumers, while also providing therapeutic needs,” he said. Finally, precision pharmaceuticals is another area that many are already exploring.

He also stressed the versatility of 3D printing technology has helped in the current COVID-19 Pandemic. From collection swabs to new ventilator concepts, 3D printing has already shown its value in rapidly deploying new innovations.

More information on viewing recordings from 3DHEALS 2020 virtual conference is at:

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