East West Manufacturing Blog

Additive Manufacturing/3D Printing Impact Medical Device Manufacturing

Written by Patty Rasmussen | October 18, 2016

 Talk about explosive growth! The additive manufacturing industry has experienced 25 percent compound growth every year since 2009. It’s projected that additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing), as an industry, will be worth more than $5 billion by the end of 2016.

Aniruddha Srinath writes in the Medical Plastics News that "medical and dental markets represent a significant portion of this growth, and are estimated to account for 14 percent of additive manufacturing equipment sales globally. Dentistry has played a significant part in this, as use of the technology has allowed industry professionals to 3D print orthodontic and dental equipment, and consequently increase the number of services they are able to offer.”

3D-printed, patient-specific cutting guide, placed on a model of a distal femur.                   

Additive manufacturing has transformed medicine, and we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. From instrumentation to implants to external prosthetics, additive manufacturing has gone well beyond simple prototyping. According to the US Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) website, as of December 2015, the agency has cleared more than 85 medical devices created via 3D manufacturing.

Applications run from producing 3D patient-matched models for diagnostic purposes to designing treatment plans, as at Dornheim Medical Images in Magdeburg, Germany. Dornheim developed software which maps 3D images of anatomical parts or anomalies like tumors. Taken a step further, the software is used not just to accurately diagnose conditions, but to construct patient-specific 3D models to develop better treatment plans or surgical procedures.


3D-printed titanium spinal disc replacement, similar to those used to treat degenerative disc disease.                                                
FDA photos by Michael J. Ermarth

Much has been written about the potential for large-scale additive manufacturing in the medical industry with regulations creating one of the biggest hurdles. Earlier in 2016, the FDA released its guidelines on 3D printing and medical devices which will go a long way toward assisting manufacturers as they determine whether to wade into the additive manufacturing waters. 

In addition to the FDA’s excellent website, here are other resources to check out on the topic of additive manufacturing as it relates to the medical field.

  • An excellent roundup of organizations, worldwide, engaged in additive manufacturing in several industries, including medical.

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