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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

Bench Talk


Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics

Types of Medical Devices Well-Suited for 3D Printing Liam Critchley

(Source: phonlamaiphoto - stock.adobe)

3D printing is a versatile technique impacting the medical sector due to its customizability, speed, and ability to create highly complex parts. The customizability of 3D printing, alongside its ability to create geometrically complex parts, opens new avenues in personalized medicine and offers a way for patients to have customized implants and prosthetics that might not otherwise be available to them.

Once you go beyond conventional 3D printing methods, there are also 3D bioprinting approaches that are starting to gain traction to create tissues and other systems made up of biological matter. The combination of the two techniques is expanding what is possible in modern-day medicine. While 3D bioprinting is used to make more natural, biological matter ‘parts’, the synthetic medical device side is being realized through more conventional 3D printing methods.

Types of 3D Printed Medical Devices

When we talk about medical devices, a range of things that come to mind. On one hand you have the high-tech devices such as sensors, pacemakers, medical imaging systems (MRI, CT, X-ray etc), and monitoring devices that require some electric component to function properly. On the other hand, you have medical devices that are technically lower tech because they don’t require any electrical input, and this includes implants, prosthetics, surgical guides etc. Given that 3D printers are primarily creating structural and solid materials, rather than electronic devices, many of the medical device applications have so far been on the ‘lower tech’ side of medical devices.

Surgical guides are used in the medical and dental fields. On the medical side, MRI and CT images can be taken of a patient where an implant is going to be put and the surgical guide makes it easier for the implant to be inserted into the body and allows any drills or saw used in the procedure to be guided with a much higher degree of accuracy. The use of 3D printing now offers a quicker way to build more accurate surgical guides for implant procedures that better fit the patient’s implant site, through the ability to produce more geometrically complex parts, making the guiding process more accurate. In addition, a range of implantable devices, such as stents, can be created with 3D printing methods as well.

On the dental side, 3D printing is used to make surgical guides are being created that fit directly over a patient’s teeth and allows the surgical drill to be placed accurately. Again, the complex geometries of the different teeth can be captured and realized much more accurately with a 3D printed device, and in a much quicker manner. Beyond surgical guides, 3D printing is being used in the dental space for creating strong bridges and crowns.

Another big area is prosthetics. 3D printing is being used to create two types of prosthetics. The first is customized prosthetic covers that make existing prosthetics more aesthetically pleasing. The second way is for making some of the functional elements of an external prosthetic (such as moving parts that are often subject to wear) from 3D printed materials. A range of customized high performance implantable prosthetics that are possible, and like external prosthetics, are typically made of metals and metal alloys so that they last for long time—and in the case of implantable devices, resist the effects of biofluids in the body. The use of 3D printing allows implantable prosthetics that are geometrically complex to be created, such as kneecaps and lumbar cages.

In addition, there are also some other smaller application areas as well. One example is in-ear hearing aids, and while 3D printing methods don’t create anything on the electronics side, they are used to create highly accurate shells that encase the electronics and fit the patient’s ears perfectly. Another example is foot and ankle-foot orthoses that re-align or provide pain relief to a patient that has a damaged or diseased lower limb. 3D printing offers a way to tailor the mechanical properties of the orthoses so that they are flexible in some areas but supportive in others, allowing for a greater degree of support and comfort to the patient.


3D printing is making waves in the medical space. From surgical guides to dental treatments, to prosthetics and implants, there are a range of more material-based, lower-tech medical devices that are being created with 3D printing methods. Once you combine this with the potential scope of 3D bioprinting, there are a lot of areas within the medical sector that could be innovated and changed by 3D printing methods in the coming years.

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Liam Critchley is a writer, journalist and communicator who specializes in chemistry and nanotechnology and how fundamental principles at the molecular level can be applied to many different application areas. Liam is perhaps best known for his informative approach and explaining complex scientific topics to both scientists and non-scientists. Liam has over 350 articles published across various scientific areas and industries that crossover with both chemistry and nanotechnology.

Liam is Senior Science Communications Officer at the Nanotechnology Industries Association (NIA) in Europe and has spent the past few years writing for companies, associations and media websites around the globe. Before becoming a writer, Liam completed master’s degrees in chemistry with nanotechnology and chemical engineering.

Aside from writing, Liam is also an advisory board member for the National Graphene Association (NGA) in the U.S., the global organization Nanotechnology World Network (NWN), and a Board of Trustees member for GlamSci–A UK-based science Charity. Liam is also a member of the British Society for Nanomedicine (BSNM) and the International Association of Advanced Materials (IAAM), as well as a peer-reviewer for multiple academic journals.

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