The Cost of Medical 3D Printing

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3D printing is one of the most exciting technological advancements of the past few years. The technology shows a lot of potential, and is already seeing standardized use for prototyping and small scale production across a number of industries. With the ability to print both  models and Biomass, these devices can provide immense value to the scientific community, especially when related to medicine.

Of course, no technology is without its drawbacks. In addition to being fairly new, 3D printing can still be incredibly expensive initially, although the costs are still lower than traditional manufacturing after the initial investment. This makes 3D printing better suited for certain purposes above others. Learn about the uses and costs of 3D printing for the medical industry here.

3D Printing in the Medical Industry

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One of the primary medical uses for 3D printing is creating affordable, customized plastic prosthesis for amputees of all ages. Not only are these 3D-printed limbs easier and cheaper to make than with traditional methods, but as technology continues to improve, we’re seeing more and more prosthesis that can accurately mimic the movement of natural limbs.

Another valuable use is printing subdermal implants, for bone lost through accident or illness.

This technology is also allowing surgeons to print accurate replicas of patient anatomy in order to practice and plan complicated procedures before the surgery takes place. This not only ensures that surgeons are met with fewer unexpected surprises, but also has the benefit of reducing surgery times by up to 25%.

One of the most exciting possibilities of this technology is the ability to bioprint organic tissue. There have already been instances where doctors have been able to 3D print bone and cartilage for grafting in circumstances where finding donors can be difficult. As advances continue, it may one day be possible to bioprint organs such that tissue rejection is a thing of the past.

The Hardware Required for 3D Printing

As mentioned earlier, the biggest drawback to 3D printing is the cost. 3D printing for medical purposes necessitates using the highest quality hardware available, and a top of the line printer can run up to $500,000. While that cost might cause some to balk initially, once the cost of the printer itself is accounted for, costs for manufacturing drop off sharply, with potential costs for prosthetic limbs going as low as $100 - $300 per part. Additionally, 3D printing companies often times offer subscription-based models, allowing companies to have access to 3D printers in exchange for an annual usage fee and the cost of materials for large-scale production. If you opt to use a vendor rather than owning a printer, it can cost up to $9,000 per model printed.

3D Printing Cost Breakdown

In addition to the upfront costs of obtaining a printer, there is also the cost of the 3D modeling itself (specifically for biomass projects, specific prosthesis, etc.), importing patient DICOM data in others (1:1 models for surgical planning), and the cost of materials. Many times, this cost would be for a one-time use, especially for surgical planning models.

Photo by  NeONBRAND  on  Unsplash

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

The Drawbacks of Physical Models

For purposes of planning surgeries and training, $300 per limb is not enormously expensive but it does cut into margins with every surgery, and potentially only allows for limited use. This also results in a lot of waste material. To achieve similar or better surgery training and planning results without the per-surgery cost and waste, some hospitals are turning to virtual reality (VR) solutions to allow doctors to operate as many times as needed on infinite types of surgical simulations. Some are so advanced, they use mounted hardware that applies haptic feedback and resistance, making the surgery nearly as real as a physical operation without limits like materials or space.

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The Round-Up

While the current upfront and maintenance costs of 3D printing can be prohibitive, it is nonetheless making certain parts of the medical industry dramatically more affordable and opening new possibilities in others. In cases involving organ transplants, limb prosthesis, and implants, this technology is improving both surgical procedures and the lives of patients afterwards. For modeling and training, where making 3D prints for a single use-case may be wasteful, other types of simulations can be far more cost effective.