Modern manufacturing started with the industrial revolution, became a powerhouse when Henry Ford instituted the assembly line, and is now facing a new innovation: additive manufacturing, also known as 3D Printing. The 3D printing process begins with a set of programmed instructions that tells the printer how to lay down material (plastic, ceramic, metal) to create a 3D object.
This new technology offers exciting opportunities for manufacturers. At this point, it doesn’t look like 3D printing will be replacing traditional factories or machinery. The process is innovative, but is not yet economically advantageous to become a full-on manufacturing operation.
3D printing still complements traditional manufacturing processes, and is extremely
advantageous. What 3D printing brings to the table is in prototype and customizable product manufacturing. The ability to design and produce one item fosters new product development and aids in manufacturing specialized parts or equipment.
This specialized part manufacturing has significant benefits to the medical industry. The ability to customize items such as hearing aids or dental implants effectively and efficiently improves patient outcomes. At the most recent MD&M and Atlantic Design & Manufacturing shows, exhibitors displayed innovative medical devices made through 3D printing. Medical device designers are finding good use for new applications involving 3D printing. Products such as suture wound closure devices, custom porous cranial implants, and spinal implants were on display.
As with all medical implants, the FDA has a say in approving the devices. There has been uncertainty in the regulations as the FDA solidifies its view of additive manufacturing. The FDA has already approved certain resins for facial reconstructive surgeries and has a fast-track system that allows certain facilities to use a 3D printed device when there are no other patient options. It is expected that the FDA will issue full guidance on what questions device manufacturers can expect regarding 3D printed medical devices by the end of this year.
We are in agreement with the industry, that 3D printing brings new capabilities to manufacturing and we plan on purchasing our own printer. The new printer will help us explore this new technology and allow us to learn how to incorporate it to improve our capabilities. We believe that 3D printing technology will enable us to help customers with parts for improved customizations of medical implants such as prominent acetabular cups, spinal cages, and knee components.
As the technology improves, offering more material choices and higher outputs, the possibilities seem limitless. We are looking forward to offering expanded capabilities and customer options through 3D printing.