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Emerging Trends In Additive Manufacturing for Health Care

Laura Gilmour,  Global Medical Business Development Manager for EOS
By Laura Gilmour Global Medical Business Development Manager , EOS

Using 3D printing, or additive manufacturing (AM), in health care is on the rise, with the market expected to be worth nearly $26 billion by 2022. This growth goes well beyond just prototyping, as AM is already used throughout the industry to solve problems and improve care.

If you’re not currently using 3D printing, you’re behind the competition.

As AM continues to gain momentum, there are four areas where we see the most growth opportunity in health care in the coming years.

Personalized medicine. Devices, medical equipment, tools, and pharmaceuticals are all driving the market to be more customized. And it’s up to manufacturers to make this level of personalization feasible quickly and cost-effectively. No two people are alike, each patient and medical professional may have different challenges—creating opportunities to personalize equipment. Instead of relying on large-scale production satisfying “most” users, 3D printing can create devices and instrumentation for individuals.

Orthotics are a perfect example. Companies like Aetrex already analyze individual’s feet to print 3D shoe inserts perfectly customized to each person’s unique foot structure.

New materials and uses. Metals will be necessary for some time for medical devices. However, more people are becoming open to the possibilities of polymer in the health care space, such as prosthetics. Other areas include devices for sleep apnea or for infants, to ensure protection and design flexibility. Shape-memory polymers (SMPs) are increasingly used in trauma and cardiovascular scenarios. Or if there’s a fracture closure needed, for instance, nitinol staples can bring the bones back together by shrinking into place.

Rural health care. According to the U.S. Census, approximately one in five, or about 60 million Americans, live in rural areas. And almost a quarter of them say limited access to quality doctors and hospitals is a significant problem in their communities.

This is one of the main reasons 3D printing will likely see more adoption in rural health care. Scan-to-print applications allow rural hospitals to undertake more complicated procedures – which are currently being referred out to better equipped health care providers.

The prosthetic community is becoming increasingly open to AM because of the significant benefits it offers for both patients and health care providers. Where a rural hospital might typically refer a patient to a specialist located hours away, AM allows practitioners to scan surface areas to design a customized digital file, which can then be 3D printed in-house. This saves patients time and provides unique collaboration opportunities for providers. It also allows for easy corrections or improvements needed for pathology or treatments. For health care providers, this process enhances profitability and sustainability by keeping more activities in-house without having to refer patients elsewhere.

Near-term solutions. Many organizations are so eager about long-term innovations, like headline-grabbing 3D printed human tissue or bones, they’re often missing opportunities for near-term advancements. Replacing injection-molding or developing new surgery techniques that aren’t currently possible because it’s too anatomy-specific are two examples of smaller, incremental solutions manufacturers can start taking advantage of today.

Investing in AM. While the benefits of AM are game changers for manufacturers, many business leaders don’t understand how to get started. That’s why it’s essential to work with a company that offers end-to-end solutions.

Prioritize solutions providers that can help you understand your business goals and objectives and how to get there. The best partners offer consulting services and ongoing education and training to help ensure your investments aren’t going to waste. In other words, by working with a partner who can help you get from “start-to-part,” manufacturers will be fully equipped to take advantage of the booming opportunities for AM in the medical industry.

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