3-D Printing and Medical Device Development

Any doubt about how dramatically 3-D printing is going to affect the medical device sector should have been dispelled last summer in Beijing. Surgeons there successfully implanted an artificial vertebra replacement that was created with a 3-D printer in a young boy with bone cancer, the first time such a procedure has ever been done.

In an article on orthospinenews.com, Dr. Michael Patton, CEO of Medical Innovation Labs, cites the procedure as evidence that “medical devices are cool again.” He goes on with further examples:3D

3-D printing technology has been used to create everything from knee cartilage to new drugs for treating cancer. A fully functioning liver is expected in a few years. Or as the New Yorker put it recently: It is now possible to “print thyself.” Perfecting the process of bio-printing human organs and bones, and engineering DNA scaffolding from which to develop precise medicinal compounds is a focus for universities, private labs, and venture-funded startups alike, and for good reason.

Packaging World notes the buzz made by 3-D printing at the most recent Pharma EXPO, citing, among other examples, Baxter Healthcare’s use of 3-D printing in two recent secondary packaging applications:

  • To hold glass vials that present safety and security issues when shipping. The company brought in vendors to work with Baxter personnel and came up with more than a dozen ideas, using plastic, glass, and corrugated materials. It went through several design iterations and included a living hinge on the plastic device it selected. “For these prototypes, additive manufacturing works well and allows us to make deep-pocketed parts that are then vacuum-formed for wider production,” said Don Smith, manager engineering technology resources at Baxter.
  • To hold syringes in place so that a plunger device would not move. With 3-D printing, parts were made quickly and within a month a tool was ordered for production.

Such applications provide tangible support to the article’s point that 3-D printing offers real-world benefits for manufacturing and packaging applications. “Think prototypes, sample packs, small-volume runs, replacement parts for equipment, and alternatives to producing molds and tooling that can allow multiple changes and adjustments made at much more reasonable prices before buying tooling for commercial production.”

Elsewhere, Live Science sees the arc of 3-D printing extending beyond medical device manufacturers to practitioners, turning it into a must-have tool for doctors, researchers, and engineers. The author notes, “3-D printing isn’t just for makers anymore.”

All this buzz indicates that the coming disruption from 3-D printing will likely appear sooner rather than later—and the med tech industry will be on the forefront of this development.

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