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3D Printing and the Healthcare Industry

, 3D Printing and the Healthcare Industry

3D printers use an additive manufacturing process in which a computer model of virtually any object is constructed layer by layer until completion. 3D printing has enormous applications for manufacturing, given that advanced products have long required specialized machines for construction. That is, the machines required to construct an automobile differ widely from the machines used to make clothing. What makes 3D printing unique is that it turns the manufacturing process into a software problem rather than a physical problem of adequate space, specialized labor, and specialized machinery. With the right computer model, an advanced 3D printer is capable of producing almost any object without significant human input.

Within the context of the healthcare industry, 3D printing could be used in several unique ways to improve quality of life for physicians and patients alike. For example, current methods of knee replacement restrict physicians to a few different prefabricated knee joints. Advanced 3D printing would allow physicians to create knees specifically for each individual patient, leading to fewer complications and much greater durability. Dental and cochlear devices (such as dentures and hearing aids) have in the past taken weeks to produce, but 3D printing allows new models to be made in a single patient visit. Eventually, 3D printing in the healthcare industry will allow for the creation of fully functional human organs to give those waiting on a transplant a realistic chance for survival, while simultaneously crushing the illegal international organ-trafficking trade. While this point is still considerably far off, once a successful model is created, medical professionals will be able to use it as a data source for future organ crafting. Such is the case with every successfully 3D printed object: each functional model helps programmers refine the design.

Another primary goal for 3D printing in the healthcare industry is to build electronics directly into the manufacturing process. Knee replacement surgery, for example, could implement sensors that would continuously monitor the pressure placed on different parts of the artificial knee and document any potential damage. Medical professionals are also campaigning for 3D printers in hospitals located in developing countries, once the 3D printers themselves are capable of creating objects quickly enough to respond in a life-saving situation. In the pharmaceutical industry, 3D printers are being used to create human-accurate cell cultures to test new drugs. This practice minimizes the risk of drug trials on animals and humans alike, allowing research pharmacists to refine their design without the legal risks of using experimental drugs on human patients.

Technology is  changing rapidly and this indeed helping the healthcare sector to make some giant leaps which helps in improving the patient experience.

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