3D printing is having an impact on many industries, and the medical field is no exception, according to Rick Gillespie, Healthcare Business Development Manager of 3D Printing at Fisher Unitech LLC.
Speaking during a session at the recent Medical Device Technology Exchange conference in Secaucus, NJ, Gillespie said 3D printing was enabling medical device makers to more effectively develop products such as patient-specific implants, without some of the high tooling costs normally associated with such devices. In his current role, Gillespie works closely with the Stratasys product line of additive printing and manufacturing technologies, which include real-time 3D printing technologies such as Fused Deposition Modeling (see video)
Because 3D printing generates designs from digital files, Gillespie explained, it is easy to rapidly develop prototypes to verify and validate product designs, with tooling cost savings of as much as 60 percent or greater. Prototype parts can be rapidly modeled and produced for evaluation by medical professionals, and design changes can be done on the fly. Gillespie added that these capabilities made it possible to more precisely build patient-specific parts that improved a patient’s comfort and medical needs.
The specialized nature of many medical products lends itself well to 3D printing, Gillespie noted, as the flexibility of the additive manufacturing process made it more cost-effective to produce low-volume, high value parts. Expensive tooling can be eliminated for parts not requiring injection molding.
Gillespie added that the digital repository of design data greatly aids physicians in developing future products, with the stored part data serving as a training aid to physicians who need to replicate product designs with high confidence and accuracy.