The medical additive manufacturing sector – which is starting now to include some areas of bioprinting – is today one of the largest adopters of 3D printing technologies for the production of consumer-targeted, end-use items, including prosthetics and orthotics, implants, devices and physical models.

In this month’s AM Focus on medical additive manufacturing, we are going to hear from some of the large companies and innovative startups that have taken the possibilities offered by AM in various medical fields to new heights and built this sector into what can already be described as a multi-billion dollar opportunity (according to exclusive data provided by SmarTech Analysis).

The use of 3D printing technologies extends well beyond 3D printed implants. Surgical guides and pre-surgical models are widespread, so much so that they can, in a way, be compared to the broad adoption of AM for prototyping and tooling in the industrial manufacturing arena.

Leading AM hardware manufacturers, such as 3D Systems, EnvisionTEC, EOS and SLM Solutions, along with leading global service providers like Oerlikon, Jabil and Materialise, are investing heavily to develop both medical and dental AM applications. Medical products powerhouses like StrykerDePuy SynthesZimmer Biomet (these two merged in 2015), and Smith & Nephew, are conducting R&D with AM for a range of innovative devices. Stryker was among the earliest adopters along with medium size international firm Lima Corporate.

The list of orthopedic contract manufacturers offering AM production services today is growing rapidly, with 3dpbm’s Index listing nearly 50 manufacturers of varying sizes. Some of these companies have been utilizing AM in a significant manner for more than a decade and are beginning to look beyond just the design and production of existing implant types in titanium using additive manufacturing.

While the benefits of AM technologies for personalized medicine and more efficient surgical practices are well documented, several hurdles still exist that are limiting a more widespread adoption of these key technologies in hospitals and medical practices. Several of these hurdles are inherent to AM technologies and related material availability, however, the biggest challenges result from a general lack of awareness and skepticism, resulting in a slow pace of adoption.

Today, significant strides are being takenmainly in the private segmenttoward the development of advanced polymers, metals and ceramics fit for implantation in humans. The private dental segment is going through a full-size boom in the adoption of AM technologies and processes. With this month’s AM Focus we hone in on the latest advancements and take a look at the upcoming opportunities for medical AM.

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