Additive manufacturing is seeing rapid adoption in the medical and healthcare industry, thanks to the game-changing capabilities that additive technologies bring to healthcare applications. Additive manufacturing is being adopted in the mass production of parts across multiple industries, and its ability to disrupt traditional manufacturing methods in some areas cannot be underestimated.

The state of additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing continues to challenge traditional manufacturing methods by distinguishing itself in terms of material cost and production flexibility by allowing geometries that could not be traditionally machined or would require multiple parts. Additive manufacturing has moved from rapid and advanced prototyping to legitimate mass production of parts; the products of this process are widely used in aerospace, defense, automotive and even industrial applications. The ability to “digitally warehouse” a part, i.e. print spare parts on demand instead of keeping and storing a spare part, is an incredible step that allows companies to to be more flexible.

While additive manufacturing is making headlines in traditional fields like aerospace and automotive, it is also advancing in other industries. One sector that may surprise is healthcare and medicine, which is rapidly adopting additive manufacturing and will continue to experience rapid growth.

Medical Manufacturing Growth

According to ARC research, medical manufacturing is the fastest growing market segment in additive manufacturing, encompassing dentistry, medical devices and appliances, and medical tooling. Additive manufacturing for the medical and related industries is already disrupting subtractive manufacturing and more traditional additive designs.

COVID-19 indirectly led to an increase in adoption thanks in part to the need for medical personnel to overcome an ever pressing lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the start of the pandemic. The Food and Drug Administration, at the height of the personal protective equipment shortage in 2020, issued guidelines for medical facilities using 3D printed PPE. Healthcare has continued to invest in additive manufacturing throughout the ongoing pandemic. This has awakened the medical industry to the advanced capabilities that additive manufacturing could bring to production.

Benefits of Additive Manufacturing in Healthcare Applications

The characteristics of additive manufacturing allow greater flexibility in the design process. Where subtractive manufacturing requires specialized effort and a greater amount of raw material, additive manufacturing minimizes these issues. Additive manufacturing has branched out into a large number of materials, from plastics and resins to metals, and now biomaterials composed of living cells. Combining additive manufacturing with generative design can be a particularly winning combination for healthcare and medicine.

The ability to print in place and reduce the time needed to create specific devices and tools for medical applications is a game changer. The ability to print customizable parts to better meet the needs of the doctor and patient reduces the hassle overall. But how much of this new technology is currently being implemented?

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Keywords: additive manufacturing, healthcare, bio-printing, patient personalization, medical tooling, dental, ARC advisory group.

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