05.23.15

3D Printing’s Future: Rooted in Healthcare

3D printing is so much more than a technology; it’s a complex platform with applications that affect supply chain, manufacturing processes, regulation, and really the entire product development process. To capture the latest trends and technologies, Worrell attended and spoke at the Inside 3D Printing Conference in New York City, where leading scientists and innovators presented on all things happening at the intersection of 3D printing and healthcare. With all of the topics covered at the conference, we’ve highlighted the key quotes and takeaways that are likely to influence your business.

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In the healthcare industry, the price point and value proposition support mass customization via 3D printing. As a result, we can now move beyond expensive Lamborghini healthcare products to customized devices priced at a fraction of traditional costs. Healthcare is no longer the hospital on the hill but a future where customization is both accessible and cost-effective for every patient.

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Similar to the digitization of the music industry, 3D printing software and hardware will enable droves of users to access products that were at one time only available via traditional retail channels, potentially leading to a Napster-like era of pirating physical goods. Eventually, the market will mature and we’ll see secure and verified streaming of physical products ”like the iTunes of 3D printing” where users are able to download and print products from their favorite brands.

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3D printing can exponentially accelerate medical device development. In one case, Dr. Hollister and his team met with a surgeon on Wednesday, 3D printed a trachea implant on Thursday and delivered it on Friday. The surgery took place the following week. In other words, time saved using 3D printing can literally save lives.

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There’s a lot of hype about 3D printers, and we won’t deny our own obsession with these machines, but we can’t forget about the importance of the materials that make this technology relevant to the healthcare space. Until printed materials compete with their production-quality counterparts, we will be stuck merely replicating shapes, rather than offering high-quality, life-saving medical devices to patients and providers at a competitive price.

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Scientific advances that challenge the FDA are not new; gene therapy, stem cells, mobile health applications and biosimilars are examples of innovations that have all endured the regulatory process. As 3D printed medical devices gain FDA clearance, it will be easier for other medical applications to follow.

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One of the fascinating aspects of 3D printing is its ability to decentralize production, empowering individuals and communities ”in all corners of the globe” to take charge of their own health outcomes. We are entering a new era, not just of crowd-sourced humanitarianism via 3D printing, but citizen-driven science and medicine.

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