Medical device designers and manufacturers have many special needs that 3D printing can help meet.
3D printing, also known as rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing, is slowly making the leap from a method of making prototypes to one that can also make functional parts. But even in its current state, doctors and biomedical engineers can make good use of 3D printing in a wide variety of links in the medical-device value chain, according to Stratasys, one of the leading manufacturers of 3D printers and a presenter at the MDTX Show.
For medical R&D. 3D printing does live up to its original name of rapid prototyping. It lets biomedical engineers move more quickly from design to physical object and from verification to validation, and then the final design. They can mock up a non-working version to test the fit and form of instruments and implants. In many instances, 3D printing also lets them build functional parts for testing. The prototypes are created quickly compared to previous times when they were hand-crafted by skilled modelers. This speeds up the design phase by letting the engineering team go quickly through several iterations on a design, incrementally improving it or rejecting different approach. Prototypes can also be given to physicians for feedback, and they intuitively understand 3D prototype faster than by trying to understand how a 2D model on a computer screen will look and feel.