As society evolves, so does our needs for advancement. It’s at that point when new technologies show up as major players, challenging us to look at the world in a new way. What used to be deemed as impossible designs and concepts are now a tangible reality. Technology used only in the imaginative world of “Science Fiction” is now available to buy and use. It is providing new answers to the health problems that many of us face each day.

One area of health where additive manufacturing (3D printing) has really taken off and improved is prosthetics. Surgeons and doctors have been able to create and rebuild custom designed prosthetics quicker than it was ever possible to do in the past.  This has been a success for children who are growing constantly, and as they develop, require multiple prosthetics at each stage of development.

Using digital imaging technology surgeons and engineers are able to scan the injured area of a patient’s body. The data is collated together in a CAD file. It is from this CAD file that engineers can create a fitted prosthetic custom designed specifically to the individual patient. One of the benefits of using a 3D printer in order to make prosthetics is that it’s cost effective, in addition to it providing a better standard of care for patients.

In terms of the cost of traditional prosthetics, they can range from $5000 and reach in excess of $50,000 or more* an amount of money people do not usually have lying around. Using a 3D printer to make prosthetics drops the price of it into the hundreds. Which is a more affordable bracket managed by those who require a prosthetic.

Additive manufacturing is revolutionizing prosthetic designs in countless other ways; one of the more recent examples is the creation of Robohand. The amazing thing about Robohand is that it was used to help a 12-year old boy, named Daniel, who suffered an injury due to civil war in his country of Sudan. It changed Daniel’s life for the better and helping many others. The device allows Daniel to carry out simple tasks like throwing a ball, holding a toothbrush, and feeding himself, which was impossible before.

This case was a catalyst, encouraging other people who were in need of an affordable prosthetic to step forward and use 3D printing as a solution to their problem. Daniel’s hand remarkably cost $5 to print and can be replaced as many times as it needs to be. Once Daniel is older he will be able to choose a more suitable ornate option that is fully functional.

When it comes to 3D printing as a technology is far more than just replacing limbs, there have been multiple stories that include people who have had parts for their ears, face, and even skull replaced. All the engineer has to do is scan the side of the patient’s undamaged ear or skull and use that information to create and develop a new ear or part of the skull for that person.

A professor in plastic surgery, Mr. David Dean mentioned that trying to fit a cranial implant using traditional methods and not 3D printers is incredibly difficult.  There were countless hazards and potential issues that had to be avoided.  If a cranial implant was fitted using traditional methods, it could very easily cause life-threatening seizures, and block vital blood vessels disabling them from being functional.

What we are seeing from the implementation of 3D printers into the process of implants and prosthetics is that they can be fitted at fast pace with high levels of accuracy. At this moment, it is now possible to make implant and ship it out all in the same day.

The revolution has already started and is well underway, in hospitals in the UK, patients have already undergone successful procedures that included a 3D printed hip and 3D printed knee replacement. This will soon no longer be cutting-edge, but will be standard run-of-the-mill exercises at hospitals throughout the world.

As with any new technology, it will have to overcome hurdles of some sort. In the case of 3D printing becoming a standard in prosthetic creation, the main hurdle is getting major orthotics companies to embrace the technology into their manufacturing.

Overcoming this hurdle is made easier as 3D printing becomes more affordable, meaning the orthotics companies will be forced to adapt to the new applications offered by this technology. Once orthotics companies realize 3D printing saves on time and money during product manufacturing, it is then we will see the full effects of 3D printers in prosthetics manufacturing.

The beauty of using a 3D printer is you can create almost anything you want to with the right resources and knowledge. With these innovative printers, you have the ability to customize in great detail, to design in ways that could never be done using traditional methods. That’s good news for the consumer because companies are saving money using 3D printers in their product production, which means higher quality and more affordable prices for us.

Three-dimensional printing equipment is being improved on daily. New products are being created and printed off using 3D printers each day, the technology is advancing as 3D printer manufacturers look to better their products and services. It’s been mentioned in previous posts, the rise of additive manufacturing will be similar to the rise of the personal computer.

When the PC first came out, it would have taken up all the space in the front room of the house. Today, we walk around with the same technology installed on our smartphones that fit snugly in our pants pocket. The equipment is no longer exclusive to engineers. They are now accessible and becoming a familiar sight in schools, colleges, and even in our homes.

The way 3D printers are advancing, the direction in which the technology is heading we are easily looking at one in every home, capable of printing what we need, when we need it. More and more companies are making their product blueprints available online, allowing users to have a go at printing an exact match part. We are looking at a future where we no longer need to wait until next week for that boiler part to arrive, but rather we can print it in our own homes the very day it is needed.

Now we must understand that 3D printing has been around for over 30 years or so, in terms of being a “new” technology it isn’t really that new at all. What has made 3D printing stand out from the other technologies around is its rate of advancement, which is a lot faster than other competing technologies. What has also made 3D printing stand out is the way it is affecting the services currently available to us. Many people may not understand the full concept of 3D printing, but on the other hand, most people still come into contact or touched something created by a 3D printer without knowing it.

Now we understand that additive manufacturing has been around for 30+ years, and have been able to witness the avenues it has expanded and advanced into. The thing that is most exciting about 3D printing is we can only predicate where it is going to take us, and how it will advance for the generations to come.  Combining both 3D printing and 3D scanning together, you have a very powerful technology capable of wonderful and exciting things.

The reality is that 3D printers pack a powerful punch when it comes to technological capability. This potential technology powerhouse has yet to be seen in the right light due to negative feelings surrounding 3D printed firearms. How 3D printers advance over the next five to ten years will allow the technology to be evaluated correctly. Many will come to terms with it, as it will be a major player in the way products are manufactured.

3D printing is on the verge of transforming the world, as we currently know it. Consumers will be able to have the products that they desire custom made, created and produced on demand. Manufacturers will be able to experiment with new designs and create better quality products for their businesses.  The final stages of progression would be to have a desktop 3D printer like the MakerBot Replicator or Stratasys Mojo in every household. These two machines are capable of printing a computer mouse prototype and more.

In the past additive manufacturing or 3D printing was quite expensive and incredibly slow process. Large manufacturing companies used it mainly to create prototype parts and concept products. However, as we have found out through this article, 3D printers have advanced increasing their speed and product development quality levels.

Three-dimensional printing has become more efficient, turns out higher quality products in relation to the first 3D printers that were introduced in the 1980’s. With researchers and engineers exploring 3D printers in new ways, each day the technology has evolved to meet these demands.

What are your concepts and understanding of 3D printing? Are you like the many that fear to explore it due to lack of understanding and knowledge? Before casting an opinion about 3D printing, take the time and do some personal research on the topic. Read about the wonderful ways it is being used to improve the lives of many through incredible medical innovations and raising the standard of life.

Just like when you get a new TV you can’t work the remote everything is new and unusual. It’s also like when you get a new cell phone, you don’t fully understand its capabilities until you have had hands on experience, working and playing around with it. Yet, we don’t discard the technology we give it time and allow time to get to grips with it. This is exactly like 3D printing, its new, some people don’t understand it, all it takes is for you to spend the time to discover and learn the basics, and then let your imagination unlock the technology’s vast potential.

In finishing, we can agree on this, 3D printing is here to stay. It will continue to be a major influence in the shaping of the technological future. At some point, we will all be faced with the challenge to understand it, or choose to ignore it. Who wants to be the type of person is stays in the past? The incredible innovations of 3D printing is worth exploring and feeling inspired because of them. Why not try to understand all that we can about it, benefit from it, and enjoy it.








Article Resources:

Need a Hand? Boy Gets Prosthetic Hand Made by 3-D Printer (Cost $5 vs. $30K Medical Device)

*Cost of Prosthetic Source