Photo: LayerLAB GO wheelchair
With seemingly endless imagination and diverse applications, the 3D printer market is estimated to garner $8.6 billion by 2020, according to forecasts from Allied Market Research. This year, 3D printers are moving rapidly into the healthcare space and already showing value by providing cost savings and customization for a growing number of healthcare needs. According to Intel iQ, healthcare is one of the fastest growing 3D printing industries, based on forecasts from Materialise, a company in Belgium that provides various software, engineering and 3D printing services.
Bryan Crutchfield, the company’s Vice President and General Manager, told Intel iQ that the “uniqueness of each patient’s condition and anatomy lend themselves to 3D-printed solutions.” He notes that 3D printers have tremendous value in improving patient outcomes, adding that radiologists, surgeons and clinicians are coming on board with new uses for the technology.
Healthcare professionals are using 3D printers to fabricate anatomical models for visualization, education and planning. That includes creating patient-specific guides to help surgeons in the operating room and designing custom implants that are a perfect fit for individual patients.
Surgeons are beginning to understand how 3D printed models can go beyond imaging and help with enhanced patient care. For example, Materialise offers 3D printing services for patient-specific cardiovascular anatomical models. By having a physical 3D model, the surgeon can better understand a patient’s anatomy and use the model to better prepare the surgical team—and the patient—for a procedure.
The solution offered by Materialise allows the physician to create their own anatomical model using the Materialise Mimics inPrint software. Or if the physician or hospital isn’t 3D equipped, the company’s clinical engineers will help construct and print the 3D models.
3D Printing on the GO
Medical equipment manufacturers are turning to 3D printing as a way to personalize devices for patients and provide better functionality at a reduced cost. One new usage of 3D printing is the GO wheelchair, which is a made-to-measure custom printed wheelchair developed by LayerLAB in London.
The shape and form of the seat and foot bay on the GO wheelchair is driven by 3D digital data, which is derived from mapping each user’s biometric information. The resulting wheelchair accurately fits the individual’s body shape, weight and disability. The company also developed the GO app, which allows patients to participate in the design process by specifying optional elements, patterns and colors on their GO wheelchair.
LayerLAB prints the seat of the chair using a semi-transparent resin and thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) plastic, providing shock absorption to make the ride smoother. The foot bay is printed out of a more sturdy titanium.
In addition to medical supply companies, 3D developments in healthcare are appearing organically. An online community of 3D experts, e-NABLE, shares open source, customizable designs for prosthetic hands and arms. This approach has enabled an increasing number of patients—especially children—to get affordable new prosthetics as the child grows.
Devices from the e-NABLE community can be built for as little as $35 in materials, according to co-founder Ivan Owen. In two years, the e-NABLE network has provided more than 1,500 hands and arms to those in need in 40 countries. The network has expanded to include 3D printable tools for patients who have lost hand function from stroke, disease or nerve damage.