The fourth industrial revolution is based on the pillars that constitute the so-called enabling technologies of Industry 4.0. The development and implementation of these technologies have allowed digitising industrial processes, saving costs, improving productivity and transforming employment. The fourth industrial revolution has an important characteristic that differentiates it from all others – its transversal character. Enabling technologies have reached the industry to make the leap to the health, education, finance, etc.
Emerging technologies such as 3D printing or additive manufacturing will play the same role assumed by the personal computer when its use became popular. In hospitals, engineers and doctors are working together to create replicas of bones, organs, and tissues through 3D printing or additive manufacturing. Starting from a file, additive manufacturing minimizes manufacturing processes and can reduce the time used by up to 90%.
Of all the 3D printing applications, it is undoubtedly its application in the medical sector that surprises the most. However, even though this technology is gaining popularity with each passing day, and specialists from diverse fields have been closely monitoring its evolution, there are still a lot of people who do not yet know its tremendous potential.
In the near future, 3D printing could have a very great impact in the medical field, where the extrusion of the living cells in place of the plastic materials by these printers has already resulted in bioprinting. 3D technology can certainly help in improving health or even save so many lives, and we will talk about 6 medical applications of 3D printing which are no less than exciting.
1. Hearing aids
The revolution in the manufacture of hearing aids began in the year 1998, and currently, 98% of hearing aids devices have been manufactured using 3D technology. Tremendous advances have been made since then, with only one machine printing as many as 30 devices in just one and a half hour.
Currently, research is being done in using 3D technology to manufacture the lithium micro-batteries for the power supply of these as well as other devices.
2. 3D printing in dentistry
This new technology is helping a great deal in the field of dental health. Within this field, implanvology is very popular and currently, there are 3D printers that allow you to design and manufacture dentures. A great medical advancement as such that speeds up this procedure and, in addition, increases the accuracy of the results of the treatments.
Today, it is possible to manufacture dental prostheses using 3d printers and Cad-Cam computer design programs. This also provides a great advantage to the dentists who can test different materials and products with significantly less investment. In addition, 3D printers allow printing prototypes with great precision that perfectly fit the needs of each patient.
3. Bones printed in 3D
Recently, a patient in the United States underwent radical surgery, in which 3/4th of the skull was swapped by an implant that was 3D printed and was made of a biocompatible material. In another case of recent times, an old woman of 83 years received the very first titanium jaw implant that was made using a 3D printer.
3D printing can also prove a lifesaver for a lot of babies born with tracheobronchomalacia, which is a congenital anomaly affecting one in 2100 newborns. Recently, the case of a newborn baby girl came into light who, in spite of living on a mechanical ventilator, had to be resurrected every single day because of this disease. The Institute of Genomic Biology of the University of Michigan developed a splint printed with a 3D printer, which was sewn around the girl’s tracheotomy tube so as to enlarge her airways and support the tissue growth. The material used for the support will be completely absorbed by the baby’s respiratory system in 2-3 years. Great news indeed!
4. 3D Printed Prosthesis
Accidents may happen to anyone. Many people get in need of different kinds of prostheses, however, unfortunately, not everyone can manage to pay for them. Thanks to the 3D technology, orthopaedics is heading towards faster production processes as well as lower costs. This becomes all the more important when we are talking about child orthopaedics, as the pieces will need to be replaced as the child grows.
And it’s not only the humans that can profit from these prostheses; a duck managed to swim and walk. Also, an eagle who was shot could recuperate its beak to some extent.
5. Creating blood vessels
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania have found out a method to print the blood vessels utilising sugar as “ink” on a RepRap printer. In place of printing a huge volume of the tissue and then leave the channels in the usual layer-by-layer tactic, the scientists paid attention to vascularization designing the 3D filament in a vascular system placed in a mold, which allows template and the mold to be removed once the tissue has developed around the filaments.
A combination of glucose and sucrose was utilised in addition to dextran for the structural reinforcement. A significant milestone in the of sugar templates is applying a thin film of a corn-derived biodegradable polymer. This particular coating lets the sugar template to dissolve and out of gel via the channels, without hindering its solidification or bringing any damage to the adjacent cells.
Once the sugar has been removed, the scientists begin to allow a liquid flow via the vascular structure; thus, the cells start receiving oxygen and nutrients just as it happens in nature.
6. The bionic ear
Scientists from Princeton University (USA) have used a three-dimensional printer loaded with silver cells and nanoparticles to create a bionic ear in which the cartilage is combined with an antenna that captures the same sound frequencies as a meat ear and bone The team, led by engineer Michael McAlpine, has been the first to create a fully functional organ that reproduces and even expands the capabilities of its human counterpart,
3D printing technology, which has demonstrated its enormous potential by replicating the shape of the ear, considered the most complicated three-dimensional organ, is able to combine and integrate living tissues with electronic components, which in future will allow incorporating all kinds of sensors into human body, for example, to monitor vital signs, to detect diseases in their early stages, or to broaden the perception of the senses.
3D printing is certainly proving to be a valuable and potentially transformative technology in the medical field too as it has proved itself to be in various other sectors. The researchers are continuing to improve the existing medical applications using 3D technology while exploring the new ones. The medical advances we have made using this technology are already exciting and very significant and, other revolutionary applications like skin grafting and organ printing are evolving.