Additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, receives a lot of attention as the next big disruptor for the medical field and medical related applications. Deservedly so, as the medical industry accounts for around 17 percent of the total AM market1. Despite the promise of AM, many in the medical industry don’t see it as a production level technology. Instead, AM is viewed as something that lives in the lab serving or applied to a few small-scale applications, such as producing hearing aids or dental crowns.
In reality, there are a growing number of AM applications from prosthetics to prescription capsules. Perhaps one of the most promising and immediate areas is in orthopedic restorations such as creating personalized cutting guides, knee or spinal implants. At the 2018 Implants Conference in Paris, Ali Madeni, CEO and founder of Avicenne Medical, spoke about the growth potential of AM for medical purposes, citing that Avicenne analysts expect orthopedic applications to achieve around 20 percent growth per year from 2016 -20212.
Improving Surgical Precision
AM is widely used for medical prototyping and creating anatomical models. However, surgical instrumentation and cutting guides have become significant application areas3. Smith and Nephew creates 3D printed cutting guides that simplify the surgical steps for knee arthroplasty, which are used in one in four Smith & Nephew knee replacement surgeries4.
Unlike mechanical parts or equipment, there is no standard for the parts that make up the human body. For example, almost five million Americans5 have undergone knee arthroplasty. Their quality of life and ability to make basic movements on their own after receiving a knee replacement depends greatly on the level of precision of their surgery. While generic hand tools are the standard for performing surgical implantation, AM has emerged as a cost effective and precise means for a mass customized approach.
Another example, Bodycad, which makes custom orthopedic restorations, has employed 3D imaging to accurately map out personalized images of a patient’s knee. Bodycad then uses 3D printing to create precise custom cutting tools (Figure 1) and prosthetic replacements (Figure 2). Lab data shows that these cutting guides are more precise than handheld tools, and just as precise as robotic assisted systems but without the capital equipment cost of a robot6.
These examples of AM produced knee cutting guides can save over $900 per operation7, a direct result of reduced surgical time by up to three weeks and 21 steps eliminated from surgery8. While cutting back on surgical steps can help reduce operating room time, thus cost, the process can also lower cost per surgery by lessening the amount of instrumentation needed as compared to standard total knee arthroplasty. More importantly, it allows surgeons to preserve bone and tissue by being more precise, improving the long-term results for the patient.
By Laura Gilmour | Medical Design Technology
Image Credit: Bodycad