Additive Manufacturing in the Medical Industry

The medical industry is an arena where mistakes simply aren’t tolerable; the equipment that makes it to market must perform consistently and predictably and be able to deliver the expected results.

But because every person is a unique individual, it can sometimes be difficult and time-consuming to get the desired results, because of the shortcomings of the kit available.

Medical additive manufacturing has exploded, infact according to statistics from Wohler Associates in 2018, the medical and dental industries combined represented 11.3% of global additive manufacturing.

The technology brings with it a whole new way of being able to treat and diagnose patients, with equipment which can be tailored exactly to the individual’s needs. Here’s a closer look at how additive manufacturing plays a role in the medical industry.

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Additive Manufacturing in the Medical Industry

Medical Devices

Unfortunately, in many cases decisions in the medical industry are based on cost, and this often means having to achieve economies of scale. Ordering custom items to be made on a one-off basis are simply not a cost-efficient use of resources for conventional manufacturing requests.

However, additive manufacturing changes matters entirely because it is surprisingly economical to produce medical devices in low volumes, even in batches of just one.

This is because there’s no expensive tooling required and no arduous manual labour to produce each article. Once designed, the programme “prints” the medical device out using the materials provided, with no manual intervention. This process is so much faster and easier than conventional engineering processes that it opens up a world of new possibilities for the medical industry

Purchasing and housing expensive medical devices can also be an issue for a cash-strapped NHS, but medical additive manufacturing negates this need. Because the components can be printed on an as-needed basis, there’s no capital outlay in advance and no storage facilities required.

The process is at its best when the emphasis is on speed, high quality and low volumes, all likely to be primary considerations for medical devices.


An area which is particularly challenging for manufacturing, orthopaedics requires both disposable surgical implements and implants which will function in a patient’s body.

This latter need is particularly demanding as no two bodies are exactly the same and designing a part which can firstly be tolerated by the body without rejection, and then fit into place exactly is no mean feat. The accuracy and ability to easily amend designs is why medical additive manufacturing is increasingly being chosen as the means to create the components.

When creating parts for implantation into the body, there’s no such thing as a standard part. Each component will need to be tailor-made and in most cases, there will be a reasonable need to produce the item speedily.

Using this process can also help the implantation process for the surgeon and make the post-recovery period easier.

Being able to introduce an extremely exact amount of surface roughness with the aid of the precise design software means that the implants and bone will fuse more easily.

Another relatively new concept is the idea of customised, disposable surgical instruments. These are surprisingly cost-effective compared to re-usable surgical tools and can actually increase the success rate of operations.

An example of a 3D printed leg.

An example of a 3D printed leg.


Dental applications

3D printing techniques add an indescribable number of benefits to dental products, particularly with dentures and implants such as crowns and bridges which need to be individually fitted to each person’s mouth.

The time to make removable dentures can be dramatically slashed, with the design created within a matter of minutes. Using this process eliminates casting errors and the final product will be strong yet capable of having the intricacies needed to guarantee a perfect fit.

Additive manufacturing has been used to produce crowns and bridges since 2005, and it’s one of the most widespread applications of the technology. With manual intervention only required to set up the manufacturing equipment and then unload it, 3D printing is a very economical way to create these vital dental components.


3D printed teeth using medical additive manufacturing

Dental models and prostheses are vital to the process of creating a truly customised piece, and oral scanners and impressions can provide the necessary information which can be used to create the dimensions of the design.

Medical Additive Manufacturing - A Key Market

The application of this technology has been central to advances in the medical field, and it’s one of the industries where the technology has been the most widely utilised. In 2012 more than 16% of all additive manufacturing applications were completed in the field of medicine, and related industries.

This is because the pieces required are typically small in size and need to be produced in very low volumes. There’s a degree of high customisation also required which can’t be fulfilled in other ways.

For these reasons, medical additive manufacturing is expected to continue to be an essential and core component of the medical industry, with its uses predicted to increase even further.

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