Orthopedic surgeons are relying more and more on 3-D printing to build replacements for their patients’ defective or worn out bones.
This year surgeons around the world will implant tens of thousands of 3-D printed replacements parts for hips, knees, ankles, parts of the spine, and even sections of the skull.
Most of them look a lot like their conventionally made titanium counterparts. But the first few 3-D printed implants tailored specifically to an individual’s anatomy may hint at a future in which customized bone replacements are commonplace.
Printed parts represent only a small fraction of the overall market for orthopedic implants, but for two important reasons that share could grow quickly in the coming years. First, an aging population is getting more joint replacement operations. The number of annual hip replacements in the U.S. doubled between 2000 and 2010. Second, in recent years engineers have gotten much better at using additive manufacturing technology—as 3-D printing is also called—to make titanium implants.