www.plasticstoday.com reports that even though the technology is well-established and highly regarded, now is not yet the time to let 3D printing loose on intricate medical products. Speaking to Eric Sugalasi, the President and CEO of Smithwise,a U.S.-based design, engineering and manufacturing company, the addition of certain additives in the manufacturing process is not necessarily conducive to medical use. This can occur due to degradation of 3D printed materials upon exposure to Ultra Violet light or other structural issues with the materials that means they are unsuitable for Class I or II medical use.
Expensive biocompatibility testing and the subsequent rounds of approval are often too expensive and time consuming to complete when already authorised injection moulded materials and processes are already in place and cost effective. On top of this, the materials used for such a purpose in injection moulding are also possibly unavailable for use in a 3D printing format and this further renders then unusable for the job in hand. Sugalasi is also wary of the strength and aesthetics of the component, as this is also not necessarily going to be as strong in relation to a 3D printed part, as opposed to an injection moulded part.
This, however, is not always going to be the case and the fast pace of the 3D printing industry, allied with the medical industry’s desire to be able to take telemedicine to the next level is definitely going to change this state of affairs in the near future. New materials, such as carbon fibre and metallic-infused resins are set to change the game in 3D printing of medical devices and parts, offering both strength and aesthetic appeal – with prices for such materials constantly falling. Couple this with the demand for devices for specialist, low-volume applications, such as paediatrics and orthopaedics and the future definitely looks healthier for 3D printing.