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Current Applications of 3D Printing Technology in the Modern Healthcare

June 24, 2024

15 minutes read

Additive manufacturing technology has rapidly developed in recent years, emerging as an innovative solution in the field of healthcare. From basic medical models to the manufacturing of rehabilitation aids, customized implants and surgical tools, additive manufacturing technology has provided the healthcare industry with a plethora of new solutions. In addition to the evolution of the technology itself, advancements in materials science are concurrently propelling the development of additive manufacturing.


This article aims to interpret the current status of additive manufacturing technology in the healthcare sector from multiple perspectives.


What 3D printing technologies can be applied in the medical industry?

The current mainstream 3D printing technologies include Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), Stereolithography (SLA), Digital Light Processing (DLP), Selective Laser Melting (SLM), Electron Beam Melting (EBM), and Multi-Jet Printing (PolyJet), among others.


These different 3D printing technologies exhibit variations in applied material strength, printing accuracy, overall costs and specific applications. Consequently, medical solutions will initially consider whether the materials can meet healthcare requirements based on their intended use. Subsequently, an evaluation of technological complexity, success rates and overall cost-effectiveness is conducted to ultimately determine the path for 3D printing technology.


What are the 3D printing materials that can be used for medical applications?

There is a wide variety of common 3D printing material types, including engineering plastics, composite materials, flexible materials, nylon, metals, ceramics, and more.


There is vast array of 3D printing materials that can be applied in the medical field, and differences exist among these materials in terms of hardness, mechanical performance, durability, weight, biocompatibility, corrosion resistance and high-temperature resistance. Consequently, the corresponding 3D printing technologies and final applications in the medical field may also vary.


Take titanium alloy as an example, it possesses high biocompatibility, stability and strength, making it suitable for use in dental and bone implants due to its relative light weight. Another popular material, PLA thermoplastic filament, exhibits advantages such as low cost, rapid fabrication, and pleasant aesthetics, and is suitable for producing medical models and rehabilitation aids. Therefore, when selecting materials, it is crucial to consider the specific requirements of medical applications and the performance characteristics required for the final products.


On the other hand, cutting-edge 3D printing materials have ventured into the realm of liquid metals. Liquid metals exhibit excellent flexibility, overcoming the rigidity limitations of traditional metal materials while retaining their metallic properties. This allows for a significant reduction in damage to cells, tissues, and organs. Liquid metals possess conductivity, tensile deformability, and biocompatibility, making them an ideal material choice for artificial bones, wearable medical devices, electronic skin, and implantable flexible electronics. Examples include biomimetic eyeball models simulating neural fiber connections, bone defect fillers, artificial peripheral nerves and wearable cardiac ultrasound imagers.


Additionally, there is another noteworthy 3D printing material that is emerging, namely bioink. Bioink is a specialized ink in a fluidic state, used for bioprinting, containing cells, growth factors and biomaterials. The cells can be stemming cells or specific types of cells, while growth factors promote cell growth and differentiation. The scaffold material provides structural support and guides cell growth.


The fundamental principle of bioprinting involves layer-by-layer deposition of bioink to create a three-dimensional structure. Interactions between cells and biomaterials simulate the natural growth and development processes of tissues. This technology holds the promise of revolutionary solutions in fields such as medical research, tissue repair, and organ transplantation. Despite successful cases of 3D-printed organs being transplanted into the human body, the development and application of bioprinting technology are still in the early stages, and the road ahead for future technological advancements remains challenging.


3D Printing in Healthcare:

Customized rehabilitation aids:

3D printing technology offers a more cost-effective solution for the customized manufacturing of rehabilitation aids. Injuries and conditions vary from patient to patient, making it challenging to achieve standardized production for aids and other rehabilitation devices. Customizing aids for individual patients through traditional methods implies high costs. However, additive manufacturing provides an economically viable therapeutic solution through its flexible manufacturing approach. With 3D printing, patients can obtain customized prosthetics, orthoses, walkers, rehabilitation devices, guiding assistive tools, custom orthopedic insoles and more, facilitating a better rehabilitation process for their unique physical needs.


In the medical industry, the rehabilitation aids market exhibits low concentration, yet it holds vast and tremendous growth potential. For some simple rehabilitation aids, hospitals or rehabilitation centers can address individual patient needs by internally producing them rapidly through the acquisition of 3D printing equipment. However, in many cases, to ensure the high quality of 3D-printed products, healthcare institutions may choose to outsource the production of aids to professional 3D printing service providers or medical device manufacturers. This presents a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking to enter the 3D printing services sector and may serve as a new business growth area for some medical manufacturing companies.

The business model for rehabilitation aids based on 3D printing technology can encompass aspects such as customization, flexible production, leasing, education and training, technical support, etc. This approach provides healthcare institutions with more convenient and efficient medical solutions. Ensuring the feasibility of the business model is crucial, and the key lies in its ability to effectively address specific needs that genuinely exist in real-life situations.


Case 1: Treating Posterior Tibial Tenosynovitis with Orthopedic Insoles

Traditional orthopedic insoles typically require production in specialized workshops, involving multiple consultations with doctors and manufacturers. The production of insoles often involves several adjustments and optimizations, and the entire manufacturing process typically takes 4-6 weeks, resulting in a relatively long waiting time for patients. Additionally, due to the complexity of the traditional orthopedic insole production process and its reliance on the professional expertise and skills of craftsmen, patients often bear higher production costs.


On the other hand, traditional orthopedic insoles are generally thicker, potentially affecting the comfort of patient use. Furthermore, constrained by material and structural limitations, traditional orthopedic insoles often have a shorter lifespan, having to be replaced frequently. However, 3D printing technology has addressed some of the shortcomings of traditional orthopedic insoles-making process to a certain extent.


Dr. Mirko Valenti personalized orthopedic insoles for a patient using the Raise3D E2. He chose PP filament as the material for the insoles due to its durability and strength, providing better support for the patient’s feet. Dr. Mirko Valenti scanned the patient’s feet and then used CAD software to create a model of the orthopedic insole and compensated for the affected areas to ensure proper arch support. Subsequently, he sliced the model file using Raise3D ideaMaker, adjusting the infill rate and shape of the model. For instance, a honeycomb infill structure could make the entire structure rigid. The whole manufacturing process, from scanning and design to production, was completed in less than 24 hours.


In contrast, traditional methods for producing custom insoles often involve the use of CNC milling machines to carve out the desired insole shape from a single block of material. Achieving accuracy in the anatomical areas of the insole requires high-precision CNC machines and a significant amount of manual labor. This process is time-consuming and complex. Additionally, traditional methods generate debris and dust during production, polluting the work environment and posing health risks to workers.


As a medium-sized professional desktop printer, the E2 can fully meet most printing quality requirements while being suitable for home and small studio environments. The E2’s IDEX (Independent Dual Extruders) technology allows users to simultaneously produce a pair of orthopedic insoles, maximizing production efficiency. Today, Dr. Mirko Valenti can print a pair of orthopedic insoles using the Raise3D E2 printer in just 2-3 hours.


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Case 2: Raise3D Products Provide an Accessible Environment for Children with Special Needs

Adaptability is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating custom bikes for children with special needs or disabilities. The organization utilizes Raise3D Pro2 series printers to create large plastic platforms that connect to the bike pedals, making it easier for the children to ride. Considering the users’ foot sizes and shapes, each platform is unique. For the children utilizing them, these platforms are customized using 3D printing technology to ensure their feet are always properly positioned. Furthermore, compared to traditional metal soles, 3D-printed soles are lighter and more cost-effective.


Safe Toddles is also a nonprofit organization that creates specialized belt canes for blind toddlers. By attaching a steel frame to a belt with magnets, the child can go around freely while knowing what is in front of them. The frame slides on the floor at the bottom, and the part that slides is covered by a 3D-printed plastic part to optimize the sliding motion.


For Dr. Grace Ambrose-Zaken, the creator of these belt canes, using Raise3D printers allows her to make adjustments when needed. For children of varying heights, the shape of the sliding cover can be adjusted to optimize which part is being used the most. The printers allow her to make the design come to life. The ability to obtain it quickly because of Raise3D’s quick production times means that Safe Toddles has a chance to provide an easy solution for all the kids who can benefit from it.


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Case 3: Kanagawa Rehabilitation Center: 3D Printing Medical Aids

The Kanagawa Rehabilitation Center was established in 1973 in Atsugi City, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. The center is dedicated to supporting the medical and rehabilitation efforts of the Prefectural hospitals, with a team that has helped more than 90,000 patients return to normal life with professional rehabilitation equipment and appliances.


By coupling the Pro2 Series from Raise3D with a high-precision 3D scanner, Kanagawa Rehabilitation Center can carry out in-house production of varying quantities of highly personalized rehabilitation aide. They established a “diagnosis-manufacture-use” system, called the Pretty 3D printing system, which includes the entire application process from patient diagnosis to data scanning, auxiliary tool 3D printing and patient trials.


Patients with physical disabilities or patients who require postoperative rehabilitation need “self-help tools” or “welfare equipment” that enable them to perform their normal physical functions. However, traditional manufacturing methods have shortcomings such as a shorter lifespan, complex production processes, long production cycles and low repeatability. In contrast, 3D printing technology brings a more flexible manufacturing approach, making the creation of highly customized medical rehabilitation tools easier and faster. Additionally, the high durability and printing precision of Raise3D Pro2 have also been recognized.

“Previous printers couldn’t achieve the level of detail very well, but Raise 3D ‘s samples are beautifully crafted and sufficiently strong”. – Mr. Matsuda.


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Case 4: 3D printing technology turns missing limbs into works of art

Paolo Peirera Valerio is a teacher in the field of prosthetics and orthotics at Anne Veaute High School in France. Together with an experienced orthotist friend, Jérôme Lamorère, they strive to help patients who have undergone lower limb amputation overcome psychological barriers. Using the Raise3D N series printers, they create uniquely personalized prosthetics. Through these distinctive custom designs, they also bring a special form of aesthetics to the patients.


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Customized Implants:

Implants are artificial medical devices used for treating, replacing, or supporting physiological structures or functions. They are typically implanted in areas such as bones, joints, heart, chest, and the oral cavity. Implants are commonly made from biocompatible materials to ensure that the patient’s immune system does not reject them and that they are compatible with the surrounding tissues.


In traditional processes, implants are produced through methods like casting, injection molding, CNC machining, etc. However, traditional methods face challenges such as complex processes, limited flexibility, long lead times and high costs. Furthermore, the comfort and adaptability of implants also need improvement. In contrast, additive manufacturing technology offers higher cost-effectiveness and efficiency, enabling the highly-customizable production of implants. This ensures a better fit with the body, enhancing medical outcomes.


Furthermore, additive manufacturing technology allows for flexible changes in structure and infill density, making the produced items more lightweight while meeting the strength requirements of the implants. This helps avoid placing excessive pressure on patients. For example, skeletal implants bear a certain amount of body pressure, and their design must consider stress under various body postures, aiming to match the actual skeletal structure from perspectives like mass and density. 3D printing technology allows for flexible adjustments to relevant parameters, providing patients with better treatment outcomes.

In addition to the manufacturing process of implants, material selection is also a crucial aspect to ensure successful treatment. As mentioned, multiple times in this document, additive manufacturing offers a wide range of material options, allowing patients to choose highly biocompatible materials such as medical-grade metal alloys, biodegradable materials, and more. This helps reduce the body’s rejection response to the implants.


Over the past few decades, biomaterials have continuously evolved and have been updated, and upgraded to better suit various medical applications. In the early 20th century, the earliest implants were primarily made of metals such as stainless steel and titanium. Later on, metals like cobalt-based alloys, cobalt-chromium alloys, and bio-ceramics such as alumina and zirconia were introduced into the field of implants. These inert biomaterials have seen improvements in corrosion resistance, biocompatibility, and mechanical performance and still dominate the implant field today.


On the other hand, with the advancement of materials science, biodegradable materials have emerged as a new trend in the field of implants. Biodegradable polymers such as polycaprolactone (PCL), polylactic acid (PLA), and others can gradually degrade and integrate with human tissues, reducing the long-term impact of implants on the body.


It is worth mentioning that Raise3D has successfully collaborated with the global leader in medical implant biomaterials, Evonik, to develop 3D printing solutions for specialized bioabsorbable polymers, RESOMER® filaments. As a result of Raise3D’s Open Filament Program (OFP), Evonik RESOMER® Filament C D1.75 (PCL), Evonik RESOMER® Filament L D1.75 (PLLA), Evonik RESOMER® Filament X D1.75 (PDO), and (Coming Soon) Evonik RESOMER® Filament LG D1.75 (PLGA) are all compatible with the Raise3D E2 printer.


Case: Raise3D helps transform the production process of prosthetic implants

NEWTEAM MEDICAL, a leading French company specializing in custom medical prostheses, has embraced innovative applications of 3D printing and has been using three Raise3D Pro2 series printers continuously for the past 6 years.


Through the use of 3D printing technology and advanced scanning techniques, NEWTEAM MEDICAL has revolutionized the process of manufacturing prosthetics, making it more efficient, cost-effective, and time-saving. They utilize 3D printing to create precise molds, enabling the production of fully personalized components for each patient, a level of customization unattainable with traditional molding methods. 3D printing allows NEWTEAM MEDICAL to produce molds with exceptional precision. These molds are then used to cast silicone, creating entirely personalized components for each patient. By leveraging the accuracy and versatility of Raise3D printers, they have transformed the manufacturing process, reducing dependence on external resources, enhancing quality, increasing customization, and improving patient care.


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Preoperative Planning and Medical Practice:

3D printing plays a crucial role in preoperative planning. Physicians can communicate with patients and develop personalized surgical plans, enhancing the accuracy and success rates of surgeries. Typical cases can also be utilized for medical education.


Traditional surgical simulation and preoperative planning often rely on medical imaging, manual drawings, or simple physical models. Doctors can obtain images of the patient’s anatomical structure through medical imaging such as CT, CBCT, MRI, etc. Then, the doctors manually mark the images, indicating the surgical path, incision location, target area, etc. Based on this marked information, doctors proceed with preoperative planning, including surgical steps and paths. This process depends on the experience and expertise of the doctors. In addition, for some complex surgeries, medical imaging may have certain limitations, making it difficult for doctors or patients to fully understand the anatomical structure.


The advent of 3D printing technology has made surgical simulation and preoperative planning easier. 3D printing, in conjunction with surgical 3D planning software, allows for the creation of precise and highly customized 3D models, providing a more intuitive display of anatomical structures. For doctors, this enables a clearer understanding of the patient’s anatomical structure, optimization of surgical paths and steps, and consideration of potential risks. For medical students, 3D printed medical models also offer more realistic surgical simulation and training opportunities. On the other hand, doctors can use 3D printed models to communicate with patients before surgery, providing patients with the opportunity to understand the surgical risks and procedures.


Making surgical guides:

Surgical guides are devices used to assist in surgical procedures, primarily for surgical positioning, and thus ensuring the accuracy of the surgery. They are typically personalized and designed by medical professionals or technical teams based on the patient’s anatomical structure and surgical requirements. Medical imaging (CT scans, MRIs, etc.) is used to obtain the patient’s anatomical data, facilitating the customization of surgical plans. Surgical guides often include guiding holes or markers that aid the doctor in precise positioning and guide the surgical tools. Placed in the planned surgical area, the surgical guide allows the doctor to follow the predetermined path during surgery, ensuring accuracy, safety, and efficiency.

Additive manufacturing enables the rapid and efficient customization of surgical guides. After obtaining the patient’s anatomical data through medical imaging, the medical team can formulate a surgical plan, determining reasonable surgical paths, incision locations, and steps to take. Subsequently, based on the surgical plan, doctors can then design the corresponding surgical guide. 3D printing allows for the quick production of the surgical guide once the design model is completed. Additionally, the flexibility of 3D printing allows for optimizing and updating the surgical guide to ensure a precise alignment with the patient’s anatomical structure.


3D printing supports a wide range of material options, including metal materials, nylon, polymer materials, photosensitive resins and more, including biocompatible materials such as titanium alloy, PLA, ABS, PA, etc. Moreover, 3D printed surgical guides can be far more lightweight, as in addition to the materials themselves, adjusting the infill rate and optimizing the structural design can reduce the weight of the surgical guide. Due to the fewer manufacturing steps and fast production speed, 3D-printed surgical guides can expedite the surgical process, minimizing patient discomfort.


Customized Production of Surgical Instruments:

Medical devices encompass various types of equipment, such as surgical instruments, syringes, and critical medical devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, and ventilators. These devices serve different roles in the medical field, utilized for the diagnosis, treatment and the monitoring of patients’ health conditions.

For medical device manufacturers, 3D printing enables them to conduct rapid prototyping at a lower cost, streamlining the research and development process and accelerating product production. This increased flexibility and efficiency allows manufacturers to be better equipped to respond to evolving market demands and advancements in new technologies.


Additionally, 3D printing can be employed for the production of surgical instruments, including items like scalpels, hemostatic forceps, tweezers, and staplers. Through 3D printing technology, surgical instruments can be custom-manufactured at a lower cost based on the specific needs of different patients, optimizing surgical treatments. Furthermore, due to the flexibility of additive manufacturing, it becomes possible to create complex structural tools that might otherwise be cost-prohibitive or challenging to produce using traditional manufacturing processes. In terms of material selection, metal 3D printing allows for the use of materials such as stainless steel, titanium alloys, nickel alloys, etc., facilitating sterilization.


3D printing applications in dentistry:

In the field of dentistry, 3D printing can be used to produce orthodontic appliances, dental models, surgical guides, dental implants, dentures, and more. With 3D printing technology, dentists can create high-precision models of patients’ oral cavities, which can be utilized for dental education, pre-operative planning, simulated surgeries, and the fabrication of braces and dentures.


Furthermore, metal 3D printing technology enables the production of metal crowns, dental bridges, implants, etc., for dental restoration purposes. 3D printing allows these dental restorations to be custom-designed based on the patient’s oral cavity, providing a more precise fit and a shorter production cycle. Additionally, 3D printing can be used to customize surgical guides based on the patient’s oral structure, serving as guiding tools during surgery to ensure the accurate placement of implants.


Traditional dental products, such as dentures and crowns, typically go through multiple stages, including impression, model casting, design and production, trial fitting, and adjustment. The traditional manufacturing process demands a high level of expertise from both dentists and fabricators. Moreover, precision at each stage, material stability, and temperature control during processing can significantly impact the accuracy of the final product. Achieving high precision and adaptability in the final dental product through this complex process implies a high cost for patients.

Additionally, traditional dental product fabrication, such as dentures and braces, often takes a considerable amount of time. Patients may need multiple visits to the hospital for adjustments, making the process cumbersome and potentially uncomfortable for them. The extended production period also prolongs the overall treatment cycle.


In contrast, the use of 3D printing can reduce the expertise required from technical personnel, simplify the production process, and enhance productivity and product accuracy. Oral scans, with higher precision compared to traditional impressions, provide more comprehensive data. With the collected information, technicians can produce customized braces and orthodontic devices for patients. These devices can adapt more comfortably to the patient’s oral structure, improving both the treatment experience and effectiveness.



In the past few years, 3D printing technology has made significant strides in the healthcare industry, bringing profound changes to fields such as medicine, surgery, and dentistry. By offering personalized solutions, rapid production cycles, and precise manufacturing capabilities, 3D printing has provided unprecedented opportunities for healthcare professionals and patients.

Despite the remarkable achievements to date, the application of 3D printing in the healthcare industry is still in continuous development. In the future, we anticipate witnessing more innovative advancements, including the introduction of new materials, the printing of more complex organs, and the deep integration of medical imaging with 3D printing. This is expected to further enhance the effectiveness of medical treatments, providing patients with more precise and customized healthcare services.

It’s important to note that different countries have varying regulatory policies and limits regarding the application of 3D printing in the healthcare industry, and so the use of 3D printing technology may still face regulatory hurdles within the field. To promote the development of this technology in the medical field, implementing a system of responsibility, strengthening intellectual property protection for 3D technology, and updating approval processes are equally crucial.

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