3d printed NP Swabs printed by ORIGIN with customized Medical LOCTITE resin
3D printing continues to penetrate the medical device sector in new — and sometimes surprising — ways. Physical technology advancements and new material innovations are playing a part in expanding the reach of 3D printing across the medical sector. However, one often overlooked factor in this evolutionary expansion is how system manufacturers are increasingly realising there is strategic value in opening up their once closed hardware to new materials from different partners to promote innovation with new and/or improved applications, which in turn is leading to wider adoption.
Since the advent of additive manufacturing more than three decades ago, 3D printing and medical sectors have proven to be mutually beneficial to one another. In the early years the main focus for medical device manufacturers was improving the product development processes with the ability to cost-effectively iterate faster and more often with rapidly produced prototypes to arrive at better product outcomes without compromising lead times.
Over the last two decades the range of 3D printing processes (1) and the materials have evolved in many ways. Simultaneously there has also been a tremendous push to develop more advanced software to manage the process chain — from initial digital design through to the process parameters that control the machines. This growing ecosystem of pioneering incumbents, new start-ups and existing large OEMs with new 3D printing strategies has pushed and pulled the other constituents today with 3D printing as a viable production process for an increasing array of applications with many, notably, in the medical sector. The global market for 3D printing in medicine alone is expected to be worth $1.8bn by 2022. (2)
One area of the ecosystem that has hindered progress is the closed systems that only process proprietary materials. Driven by a ‘consumable profit’ model, this was an understandable strategy by the pioneers of many 3D printing systems with a captive market – but there is no denying it stilted progress and innovation. Today, thankfully, things are opening up and moving faster as a result.