Topology Optimization for Compliant Medical Devices

medical-topologyIf you just place an orthopedic implant into a human being without considering the flexibility of the replacement bone, then you risk what is known as “stress shielding”. This is due to a phenomenon called “Wolff’s Law”, where the natural bone becomes less dense due to the variations in stress from the implant. The surrounding […]

Philips Debutes Surgical Procedures Enabled by 3D Printing and Augmented Reality

Philips 3d printing mri pet arIn a presentation to the Innovation Committee of the IDIS Foundation (Institute for the Development and Integration of Health) in Spain, directors of Philips explained how their new surgical technologies use 3D printing, augmented reality (AR), and in-situ monitoring to reduce hospitalization time and post-op complications. We’ve covered how 3D printing is used to make […]

How 3D Printing Boosts Innovation in the Medical Field

3D printing is becoming a crucial tool in the innovation of medical supplies, equipment and procedures as it caters to a rising demand in patient-specific products. The technology’s capacity for complex design, customization, time/cost efficiency and the availability of sterilizable, biocompatible materials have all led to substantial advancements in the medical industry in recent years. Here are a few examples of how 3D printing has led to positive progress.

Training & Practicing

3D Printing offers an affordable way of printing specific models that can allow for more precise training for surgeons. Models of organs, for example, can be printed in a material that resembles human tissue, like silicone, and can be a more affordable and less-stressful source of practice than using human cadavers. Thanks to CTs, MRIs and 3D scanning technology, physicians can 3D print exact replicas of organs, bones, or any other part of their patient to gain a better understanding of what they will be facing in surgery or treatment. This gives them a chance to practice and develop improved surgical planning, which can speed up surgery time, creating less chances of infection and minimizing patient trauma.

medical expert in 3d printing

Surgical Instruments

In any surgical procedure, the utmost precision is needed to ensure success. Thanks to rapid prototyping and the ability for customization, 3D printing allows for surgeons to have access to personalized and procedure-specific instruments. These instruments can be altered to better fit a surgeon’s hands, or a patient’s anatomy, and patient specific surgical guides can increase accuracy and efficiency to greatly improve surgical outcomes. Because modifications on 3D printed tools can be achieved quickly, this equips physicians with functionally improved tools that facilitate their operative techniques and the procedure at hand. Instruments can be printed in a number of different materials depending on their needs, including titanium, stainless steel as well as sterilizable biocompatible plastics. The potential for customization is limitless, and costs do not necessarily increase with instrument complexity.


Prosthetics also benefit hugely from an ability to create patient-specific models, as getting them fitted is traditionally a prolonged and expensive process. Using 3D printing to create prosthetics that can fit someone’s particular anatomy perfectly is a cheaper and faster alternative. Prosthetics can be flexible, stronger, less bulky and easily personalized with the help of 3D printing. The significantly lower costs make them a better option for children who need access to new prosthetics as they grow. With contactless 3D scanning and printing, maxillofacial prosthetics can be produced easier than ever before. Eye, nose and ear prosthetics have been printed with silicone to perfectly fit patients who have lost or were born without facial parts to restore facial geometry and aesthetic. The customization power of 3D technology will continue to make it a key player in the innovation of future prosthetics.

Orthopaedic Implants

3D printing contributes greatly to the advancement of orthopaedic implants. The possibility of geometric freedom, customization options and quick iterations have the potential to produce implants that fit patients better than ever before, therefore increasing their longevity and comfort. 3D technology also facilitates the creation of porous bone replacement scaffolds, allowing for natural bone ingrowth and ongrowth.

Hearing Aids

Thanks to 3D scanning, hearing aid shells and earpieces can be digitally fitted to exact anatomical specifications and customized pieces can be mass-produced. This has the potential of giving many more people than ever access to hearing aids with optimal fit, all thanks to the digitization of the design process.

shapeways 3d printed swabs

Testing / Covid Swabs

With the spread of COVID-19, the healthcare industry saw an immobilizing shortage of supplies due to the closure of traditional suppliers. 3D printing was able to meet many urgent needs by producing PPE supplies and ventilator parts at an astounding rate. Face shield designs were quickly optimized and printed by the thousands to help protect healthcare and plant workers dealing with exposure. Sterilized nasal swabs were also produced quickly to help increase testing ability. The speed and efficiency of 3D printing processes made it a crucial tool in providing immediate relief to emergency medical shortages.

Tissue Engineering

Tissue engineering focuses on finding new ways of developing or regenerating damaged tissue, creating models that can be used to study tissue development or for screening drugs. In order to regenerate or grow tissue, an appropriate scaffold needs to provide the right environment for growth. 3D bioprinting provides more control than conventional methods and enables the fabrication of structurally and biologically complex constructs and scaffolds to facilitate tissue engineering with the use of bio-inks. Researchers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a way of 3D printing living skin by using two sets of bio-inks. Grafted onto the backs of immunodeficient mice, the blood vessels of the 3D printed skin successfully transferred blood and nutrients to the mice’s blood vessels. Though this research is not quite ready for use with humans, it is one of many examples of the immense potential of 3D printing in live tissue engineering.

Medical Grade Materials

To print medical equipment it is especially important that, depending on the application, the material be compatible with a biological system. Instruments must be sterilizable and strong, implants or other pieces to be placed inside the body must be biocompatible and corrosion-resistant. 3D printing provides many plastics and metals that are suitable. Nylon PA-12 is durable, sterilizable and corrosion-resistant and is also one of the most affordable medical grade materials to use. Stainless steel is also biocompatible and good for surgical instruments and temporary implants.

3D printing is quickly becoming an essential tool in the medical industry where personalization and precision are key. From improved surgical planning and tools, to better fitting prosthetics and implants and advancing tissue regeneration, 3D printing will only continue to boost the potential to improve and save lives.

Shapeways offers industrial, medical-grade materials in our FDA-listed facilities. For all of your medical 3D printing needs, find out how we can help.

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The post How 3D Printing Boosts Innovation in the Medical Field appeared first on Shapeways Blog.

GE Produces Minimal Print Face Mask

ge face mask featured imageThe Covid pandemic has shown a spike in output from home 3D printing enthusiasts and industrial bodies alike. Many online designs suffer from a common feature however… they take several hours to print. An engineer at GE has found a possible solution by stripping back the idea of what is needed in a facemask design, […]

The Disadvantages of 3D Printing in the Medical Field

As 3D printing continues to make its way into
a variety of real-world applications, one sector is often in the spotlight:

Especially in times of public health concern,
medical care is a global priority. Improving healthcare is a
seven-plus-billion-person opportunity. But is it realistic to expect newfangled
technologies to actually make an impact?

Certain disadvantages are holding back 3D
printing in the medical field: let’s take a look at three of the biggest

One: Knowledge

3D printing is a relatively young technology,
around for decades, not centuries. Its lack of age-old existence may cause
mistrust or, worse, misunderstanding. What’s possible, what’s realistic, how
can we make it happen?

How do we find the answers to those questions?

The answer to that last is the same as any
other quest for knowledge: turn to the experts. While 3D printing may be pretty
new, expertise has grown along with the industry itself. In-depth research is
emerging all the time from prestigious universities and research hospitals to
examine and prove out realistic use and best-in-class solutions.

Experts in medical 3D printing include both healthcare professionals have been putting the technology to use to help patients and the technicians and operators syncing the technology to point-of-care needs. Service bureaus offer a helpful access point for those new to this area, as they have built up relationships with experts on both sides of this equation in addition to building in-house expertise and offering a variety of options.

Reading well-vetted sources in news and
research, as well as accessing service-driven organizations with experience in
new technologies, offers an important step in any process. Gaining background
and building up familiarity is necessary to bring on something new like 3D
printing. Understanding how it can be used today, and how applications may
build up in the future, is a critical first step.

Two: Applicability

Once you understand that 3D printing can be used in the medical field, a larger
question arises: should it?

Sometimes the answer is no. Increasingly,
though, healthcare providers are finding that, yes, there’s a place for 3D
printing in their medical toolbox.

But for what? A few of the areas gaining in
prominence include:

  • Patient-specific anatomical models
  • Patient-specific surgical guides
  • Surgical tools
  • Prosthetics
  • Bioprinted tissues

The underlying theme throughout each of these
areas is easy to see: patient-specific.

3D printing can create one-off items built to
specific dimensions, matching a patient’s exact anatomical structure. The
patient’s care team can then hold an exact replica of, for example, the
patient’s heart, examining, understanding, explaining, and even practicing
procedures that will work for that individual.

3d printed anatomical model

The human mind understands best in three
dimensions; a 3D printed model allows for a person to hold and manipulate a
physical structure. A doctor can explain to the patient exactly what’s going to
happen and why, pointing to problem areas and indicating how intervention will
help in a conversation much clearer than one relying on CT scan or X-ray
imaging. Surgical teams can use realistic materials to create practice models,
effectively rehearsing intricate procedures before entering the operating theatre.
This technique has been put to use in complex cases like separating conjoined
twins, preparing for face transplants, and practicing heart procedures for
high-risk patients.

Surgical guides can be used in the operating
room, providing exact guidance to precise measurement for areas of focus.
Similar guides are also rising in use in dentistry. Tools used in surgery are
also being 3D printed. Each of these usable objects is benefitting from the
increase in sterilizable materials that can be 3D printed for one-time or
patient-specific use.

3D printing prosthetics is increasing access
to these much-needed assistive devices. Because 3D printers don’t require that
molds be made, costs are quickly lessened while maintaining the integrity
needed to fit an individual perfectly — and safely. In cases where children
require prosthetics, their care teams can maintain their records, updating
their virtual models to size up and 3D print new prosthetics as the child grows
up and requires larger pieces. The ability to 3D print simple prosthetics on
even desktop machines has opened up availability through low-income and
hard-hit areas, such as in Haiti following the devastating earthquake that left
the country with a larger population of amputees. Advanced bionic hands are
emerging as well, along with other higher-tech models taking advantage of the
latest technologies.

The highest-tech 3D printing out there today
is bioprinting, in which living cells make up some of the “ink” used in the 3D
printer. While this is a nascent area and fully 3D printed functional organs
remain some years in the future, it’s not inconceivable that in our lifetimes
we’ll see patients receiving bioprinted organs. Research has been expanding,
creating breakthroughs in 3D printed skin, cell scaffolds, livers, even beating
hearts and vascular structures. The major disadvantage right now is that most
of these remain decades out from common usage — but work is only picking up as
progress continues around the world.

Three: Access

Once you determine that 3D printing can be
applicable, how do you actually make it happen?

Having figured out that, for example, a
desktop SLA-style 3D printer can make the patient-specific heart model you
need, how do you actually make that happen? Not everyone has the know-how to
convert CT scan data to a 3D printable file, nor the machine and materials on
standby ready to bring the design into the physical world.

Software, hardware, and materials all come
into play here, along with a skilled operator(s) at each stage. A major
advantage of 3D printing in healthcare is the possibility for point-of-care
creation, but building up the requisite in-house knowledge and physical
capabilities is a multi-layered process rife with training, and vetting and
investing in equipment — all before getting that first print started.

Until proper training and facilities are set up — if it even makes sense to have a dedicated in-house operation — access to technology and expertise can come from experienced companies. Offering end-to-end 3D printing manufacturing and fulfillment services to 130 countries, Shapeways offers a base to start the medical 3D printing journey.

Find out more about Shapeways’ medical 3D printing offerings here.

The post The Disadvantages of 3D Printing in the Medical Field appeared first on Shapeways Blog.

3D Printing and COVID-19 (Update April 15)

Operation Shields Up OSU covidAs countries around the world grapple with the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), there have been several 3D printing-related occurrences worth reporting. Last month we told you about Polytechnic University 3D printing hundreds of face shields to protect healthcare workers who have to interact with infected individuals. The rapid design and prototyping timeline made a […]

3D Printed Surgical Mask Strap Adjuster #3DPrinting #COVID19 @Thingiverse

Thingiverse user Suraky has remixed a wonderful surgical masy tensioner strap. For those masks with longer straps, they may not fit over the ears of more petite people without sagging or they be too tight wearing for an 8 (or 16) hour shift. With this strap holder design, the straps are fully adjustable to get a custom fit on a wearer.

This remix is identical to the original designed by Marslam, but with a hole punched out in the middle portion of the strap to save material and print faster.

This thing has been reviewed and approved for use in a clinical setting by the NIH (US National Institute of Health)!!!

Intended to be used to hold the elastic straps of a surgical mask, to relieve the pressure of those on the ears. Apparently wearing a surgical mask all day can be hard on the ears.

The maker also writes on April 5th that, in one week, they’ve personally produced over 1300 straps, with 1215 have gone to a few hospitals in their region where they seem to be really appreciated. A volunteer group that they’re contributing to in the Vancouver BC area has delivered over 3300 straps.

So I’ve been trying to figure out why my particular remix version of the ear saver strap has suddenly become very popular, with over 14,000 downloads in the last day. I think I’ve figured it out – It’s probably due mostly to a certain Scout who’s good deed story truly went viral with over 200k shares on Facebook – that post included a link to this page. Thanks to him the ear saver idea has been seen around the world and thousands of people are printing them. I’ve added a screenshot of his story to this page ?

See the details and downloadable file on Thingiverse.


3D Printing and COVID-19 (Update April 07)

3d printing for covid-19As countries around the world grapple with the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), there have been several 3D printing-related occurrences worth reporting. Last month we told you about Polytechnic University 3D printing hundreds of face shields to protect healthcare workers who have to interact with infected individuals. The rapid design and prototyping timeline made a […]

3D Printing and COVID-19 (Update April 02)

3d printing for covid-19As countries around the world grapple with the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), there have been several 3D printing-related occurrences worth reporting. Last month we told you about Polytechnic University 3D printing hundreds of face shields to protect healthcare workers who have to interact with infected individuals. The rapid design and prototyping timeline made a […]

3D Printing in Healthcare: The Future is Here

Additive manufacturing (AM) is revolutionizing a variety of industries, and healthcare is ripe for transformation. According to SME, the 3D printed medical devices market is expected to near $26 billion over the next two years. Moreover, the medical sector already accounts for 17 percent of the total AM market, and the market share is expected to grow as even more manufacturers expand beyond prototyping. 

Simply put: If you’re not yet utilizing 3D printing, you’re behind the competition.

Thanks to the flexible nature of AM, manufacturers are no longer beholden to large-series productions. With 3D printing, you can help medical providers develop equipment and tools with intricate designs and geometries, allow them to better react to condensed delivery times and financial barriers, and provide functional integration — all with a patient care journey that’s more personalized than ever before. 

Personalized healthcare represents one of the most significant areas of growth potential in the medical space. Using 3D printing to personalize products, tools, and devices enables you to cater to the physiological and functional aspects of individual patients and medical staff. 

For example, providing customized surgical tools can enhance procedures and improve a surgeon’s dexterity or ability to serve a specific patient population. A surgeon might naturally hold a tool or device in a way that’s not standard because of their grip preference, hand size, or other physiological differences. They could also have a special surgical technique for a particular patient population which could be better served by a tool designed to meet their technique, instead of forcing them to adapt to mass-produced instruments intended for a broad patient population.

On the patient side, healthcare providers can manufacture medical devices to the exact specifications of patients. Take, for instance, customized cutting guides for knee replacements, which allow surgeons to prep and operate quicker, as well as promote recovery and healing in patients. With AM, doctors can also create functional prototypes representing a patient’s exact circumstances so they can plan operations, test different scenarios, or economically test pharmaceutical treatments. 

Today’s healthcare providers are accomplishing the previously unimaginable: from incredible advancements in research for 3D printed organs and artificial bones to prosthetic limbs for para-athletes and beyond. Many 3D printed structures can even help promote the growth of tissue or replicate more complex cavities not possible with traditional injection-molded or extrusion methods.

Now is the time for manufacturers to take advantage of this growing space. And your success boils down to your approach and ability to find the best solutions to fit patient needs. 

One of the common roadblocks preventing more widespread use and adoption of 3D printing is not reviewing the technology from the broad impact it can have on an organization. Focusing on one product line or use case can create roadblocks in the future when trying to multiply the technology to other platforms or new business models. For example, not thinking about the full scope of products in the pipeline when adding additive manufacturing into a quality system can cause unanticipated work for the next product’s roadmap.

EOS GmbH Krailling Photo: Tobias Hase (

Instead, approaching AM from a holistic perspective enables management to identify critical areas throughout the organization where 3D printing can improve operations. For this approach to be successful, key decision-makers and department heads representing multiple disciplines or business units need to be involved in the implementation process from the beginning.

From cutting-edge materials to high-value applications, the medical industry is prime for additive manufacturing to flourish. Learn more by attending my session, “Fireside chat: Emerging trends for 3D printing in healthcare,” on Tuesday, Feb. 11th at 10:10 a.m. during Additive Manufacturing Strategies 2020.

Laura Gilmour is the Global Medical Business Development Manager for EOS, the world’s leading technology supplier in the field of industrial 3D printing of metals and polymers. For more information, visit

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