An insightful 54-page report from SME (Southfield, MI), a non-profit organization focused on the advancement of manufacturing, provides a snapshot of how additive manufacturing/3D printing is being deployed in the medical space today as well as a glimpse of some fascinating applications that are coming down the pike. Much of the content is informed by a survey of medtech professionals and healthcare providers conducted by SME in 2017. The full report can be downloaded free of charge (registration required), but here are five items that got my attention.
- Ninety-seven percent of respondents to SME’s 2017 survey said they are expecting an increase in 3D-printing applications related to anatomical modeling, specialized metal devices, surgical planning models, wearables, patient-specific prosthetics, permanent implants and bioprinting.
- The number of U.S. hospitals with a centralized 3D-printing facility has increased 3200% between 2010 and 2016. Medical hubs, such as the 150 hospitals and over 800 outreach centers run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, are standardizing 3D-printing best practices across its locations.
- For prototyping and the fabrication of tooling jigs and fixtures, polymers and metals are evenly split, with each material being used in 32% of 3D-printing applications. Polymers are dominant when it comes to printing surgical instruments and cutting guides (77%), prosthetics and orthotics (62%) and dental applications (63%). The roles are reversed in non-resorbable patient-matched implants, where metals are used 55% of the time, and non-patient-matched implants (71%).
- The greatest challenges to widespread adoption of 3D printing in the medical space are regulatory constraints (61% of respondents), materials (47%), funding (44%) and finding qualified personnel (41%). Reimbursement ranks fairly low at 31% partly because, as the SME report notes, hospitals typically will cover the 3D-printing cost as it saves time and cost later. “For surgical planning, for instance, it’s cheaper in the long run since it saves time in the operating room. Device manufacturers may include a patient-matched device as part of an implant kit without separate reimbursement because it adds value to their implant, providing them with an edge over other device manufacturers,” notes the report.
- A trend to watch: Small, innovative companies that are using 3D printing/additive manufacturing technology to produce finished products will be scooped up by large device manufacturers. The latter will continue to evaluate the additive process, adopting it where it makes sense within their existing business model including its use a final production method for new devices.