IT giant HP Inc. and its network of customers have produced more than 25,000 3D-printed parts for medical gear like respirators and face shields to help with critical shortages of the medical supplies.
Those parts have been shipped to hospitals and healthcare providers in the U.S. and overseas to help deliver critical parts in the effort to battle the COVID-19 pandemic as demand for face shields along with N95-masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) has skyrocketed.
In one example, HP is working in Spain with Príncipe de Asturias Hospital to use 3D printing to produce a respiratory circuit designed to improve the oxygenation of patients with COVID-19, company officials said. The number of parts produced is scaling quickly as requests continue for additional supplies in countries around the world, the company said.
“Our digital manufacturing partners are working non-stop in the battle against this unprecedented virus.”
Additive manufacturing, or 3D Printing has long been trumpeted as the lodestar of a “Fourth Revolution”. In reality, uptake has been limited, it remains somewhat niche, and hype has not met market expectations. Yet as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, the 3D printing industry and hobbyists alike are stepping up to help ease the supply chain disruptions by creating and printing urgently needed components.
The major issue for healthcare workers at the moment is the overwhelming numbers of people that are in urgent need of oxygenation; requiring ventilators so they can breathe long enough for their immune system to fight off the worst of the virus.
Prior to COVID-19, 3D printing was most commonly, “used in manufacturing lines or during research and development and prototyping for any sort of device, medical or otherwise. One of the more popular ones are dental aligners. Even companies as large as Invisalign or a Smile Direct Club are using 3D printing to print those aligners,” said Guarav Manchada, director of healthcare at Formlabs, a 3D printing company.
However, the coronavirus is elevating the popularity of 3D printers, bringing them to the forefront of the public’s mind.
3D printing specialist Stratasys is aiming to produce 5,000 disposable face shields in the US alone by the end of this week (March 27) in the fight against the Covid-19 coronavirus.
The PPE equipment for medical personnel consists of a 3D printed plastic frame and a clear plastic shield that guards the entire face of the wearer, under which particulate face masks are usually worn for additional protection. One leading hospital informed Stratasys that it uses more than 1,500 of the face shields over the course of a regular week. The Covid-19 outbreak had reduced the hospital to just six days’ inventory of the equipment.
Scott Drikakis, healthcare segment leader – Americas, Stratasys, explores how 3D printing could enable medical device manufacturers to overcome current limitations, improve clinical validation, and change the game of medical device testing.
The use of 3D printing in healthcare is not a new phenomenon. Those who keenly pay attention to technology developments within the sector will be unsurprised to hear of its use. In recent years, Stratasys has worked with customers across the world to improve patient care and communication, accelerate clinical validation and increase innovation. In Europe, hospitals such as CHU Bordeaux and Guy’s and St Thomas’ have utilized the very latest in advanced, multi-material 3D printing to create patient-specific 3D medical models to help plan complex procedures. Equally, customers such as Nidek Technologies have been able to dramatically accelerate clinical trials when incorporating 3D printing into the device testing process.
Despite these incredible advances, 3D printing has had its limitations in terms of organ realism and biomechanical functionality and, to date, has not offered a testing method which covers all problem areas. This means that many medical device manufacturers are still also reliant on traditional testing methods. These predominantly involve the use of human cadavers, animals or virtual modeling. However, as with the current 3D printing solutions available, each of these methods comes with their own distinct limitations. These can range from ethical concerns to lengthy and costly development processes. As a result, medical institutions are continuing to push for technological advancements to overcome such issues. To help make this a realization, it is essential to create a solution that can directly target the specific drawbacks that each of the traditional methods of testing have, as well as overcome the current limitations of 3D printing itself. The recently launched J750 Digital Anatomy 3D printer claims to address all of these issues. Through using advanced new materials and software, this printer can replicate the actual feel, responsiveness and biomechanics of human anatomy.
3D printing was pioneered way back in 1986 but has recently begun to enter the public consciousness. Over the past ten years, it has blurred the boundaries between science fiction and fact. It is also known as Additive Manufacturing and is used in the automobile industry, aerospace & defence, retail and in the medical healthcare industry, amongst many others. A major component of this is the 3D printed drugs market. 3D printing helps make what was once expensive and inaccessible much more cost-effective. Can this be more apt and necessary anywhere else than in the field of medicine? 3D printing is already used to print artificial bones, to create surgical materials with 3D scans to replace a damaged or missing bone and even to create hearing aid devices. Skull implants have been made for people with head injuries and even titanium heels to replace bone cancer afflicted patients.
There are several factors which help the 3D printed drugs market to grow. One key advantage is their instantaneous solubility. 3D printed drugs are produced using powder bed inkjet printing. The elements of the drug are added in a layer by layer approach akin to 3D printing for any other device. This makes the drugs easier to swallow and can be very helpful for patients suffering from dysphagia. 3D printing could also augment the arrival of individualised drugs, or the creation of a combination of drugs. They could be customised for each patient, which would help much more than batch-produced drugs since they would be created specifically taking into account that patient’s medical history. The 3D printed drug market could also make children far less resistant to taking their required medication, since they may be able to choose the shape, colour, design and even taste of the tablet! These are anticipated to be the main drivers of the 3D printed drug market.
Perhaps the least surprising – but most practical – use of 3D printers in the medical profession is the printing of medical equipment and instrumentation. Aid groups in Haiti, for example, have printed umbilical cord clamps and other medical devices to make up for supply shortages and affordability issues. Other instruments might include guides to assist with the proper surgical placement of a device.
3D-printed implants have the potential to replace damaged or worn body parts as easily as a mechanic replaces the parts of a vehicle’s engine. Already, plastic or titanium implants such as cranial plates or hip joints are being printed and put to use.
3D printing can definitely help to solve some of the problems that we have actually in the medical sector. For example, when a patient needs an organ for a transplant or a new skin tissue to heal an important wound, we have to wait for a donor. Waiting for a donor is a long process, but these patients don’t really have time to waste. That is precisely where the additive manufacturing technology can help them: it can use the patient’s cells to create a functional organ, an organ part or now, even a brand new skin tissue!
This process could really help accident victims and burned patients by providing viable skin grafts. It will be a real time-saving technique, and it will considerably ease the whole process as only one machine will be required. Donors and additional surgeries will not be needed anymore.
In 2015, market research firm Gartner projected that medical 3D printing would become the pioneering field that would drive additive manufacturing (AM) into the mainstream in two to five years. Four years have passed, so we’ve decided to examine the industry to determine if Gartner’s predictions have come true.
In this article, we’ll explore a handful of medical 3D printing stories from the past year to gain perspective on the level of adoption at which the technology stands.