3D Printing in Medicine: An Introduction

April 4, 2018 | Evaluations & Guidance


Three-dimensional (3D) printing is a process by which successive layers of a source material are applied to build an object, a method of rapid prototyping known as additive manufacturing (AM). 3D printing can quickly fabricate components or finished products from computer-aided design (CAD) files or additive manufacturing files (AMF). The ability to build objects ranging from surgical models to implants is already having an impact on the medical field.

The basic method of 3D printing starts with a flat surface called a build platform. The desired shape is built up on this platform in successive layers, as determined by the CAD file or AMF. Without the need for costly tooling (e.g., dies), this process can accurately fabricate intricate and highly complex 3D shapes—components with complicated geometries, specific porosities, or internal voids or channels that would be very difficult, prohibitively expensive, or impossible to produce using other manufacturing techniques.

Used in many industries, including medical, aerospace, automotive, and architecture, 3D printing is extremely versatile due to the breadth of available raw materials and construction techniques. Applications of 3D printing are rapidly expanding, with advances in equipment, fabrication methods, and materials. This article provides an overview of the process and its complexities. For more information on the use of 3D printing in healthcare specifically, see What is 3-D Printing and How Can it Transform Healthcare? published by ECRI's Health System Risk Management service.

The medical applications for 3D printing span disciplines across the hospital and continue to grow. They...

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