Could it be that no other industry has been as transformed by 3D printing than the combined fields of medicine and dentistry? The global 3D printing market is expected to grow at a rate of more than 5% in terms of revenue by 2026’s year end.
From an industry with very humble beginnings in the 1980s, to a 3D printing medical market that will expand by 365% to $867 million by 2025, the medical market is forecasted to reach a value of up to $6 billion in 10 years.
The industry has made leaps and bounds, even after the impressive innovations in 2015. Just a year ago, it was all about customizable external wearable devices, devices created for clinical trial tasks, and the increasingly curious area of medical and dental implants. In 2016, while we haven’t completely diverted from last year’s trends, the focus has definitely shifted.
4. Hearing Aids
The hearing aid industry now has close to the highest number of customized final consumer devices created with 3D printers. With an aging population, that number is likely to grow, so companies offering 3D printed hearing aids are currently expanding their line of products to include more customization of skin tone colors, water resistance, and more.
3. Prescription Glasses
Companies, such as Boulton Eyewear, are using 3D Printers to create the first photopolymer-based 3D printed consumer eyewear manufacturer. The move allows them to offer customizable frames that fit the individual “better than ever”. Eyewear this personal isn’t just a fashion statement, either – the actual prescription lenses can be customized too.
2. Tissue Engineering
It may be years until we see 3D manufactured tissues being used in a hospital setting, but that’s not stopping four universities from making big gains in perfection of the art of printing ears, cartilage and blood. The resulting tissues would seem to have endless applications, including those in regenerative medicine, vascular and musculoskeletal biology, dermatology, ophthalmology and even cancer.
Some experts predict we’re about 20 years away from seeing a fully functioning 3D printed heart, but each organ presents layer upon layer of complex engineering, so accuracy cannot be rushed.
1. 3D Printed Prosthetics
3D printing has completely changed the prosthetic business. Lately, doctors and techs have been using 3D printers to make patterns for prosthetic body parts. They use 3D printing technologies to scan and print a mirror image of the part they want to duplicate, and then press it into a wax pattern of the prosthetic device.
In 2015, the medical community was talking about 3D printed prosthetics for animals, but in 2016 we are talking about using computer algorithms to better refine the definition in which these prosthetics are printed. Advancements are bringing us closer to printing hyper realistic limbs and parts that move and behave as live ones. The technology allows multiple versions to be printed from a single digital file. Plus, the file can be edited to accommodate changes in the patient’s physical needs over time.
But the most exciting part about 3D printed prosthetics is that the cost to produce these better fitting limbs will be much less than conventional ones. Doctors will be able to offer excellent products to lower-income patients and the technology should make prosthetics more accessible for third world countries.
There are still some legal and logistical barriers keeping 3D printing out of common healthcare practices. Despite how the media over-simplifies the advancements in 3D printing, there is still the massive hurdle of funding that halts researchers and developers from getting far with these advancements.
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