By: Eric F. Patten RN, BSN, Senior Vice President of Business Strategies, The Kingstree Group
In the simplest explanation, 3D printing is an additive process whereby layers of material are built up to create a 3D part. This is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing processes, where a final design is cut from a larger block of material. As a result, 3D printing creates less material wastage.
Why is that so interesting or important?
First, let’s clarify that the simplicity of 3D printing stops at that basic explanation. The idea was investigated almost 100 years ago, but the first 3D printer arrived in 1987. Since its creation, there have since been developed multiple technologies, processes, and applications for 3D printing. Each of those has more specific targeted usage, and 3D printing is still a developing (but fascinating) opportunity on many fronts.
Now we see some interesting approaches highlighted through media, such as exoskeletons for the military, affordable housing, teaching applications, and some very interesting and exciting applications in medicine.
3D Printing Joint Treatment in Orthopedics
To better understand how 3D printing works, it’s a machine that works in layers materials by fusing them, generally following dimension information from a digital model. Part of what makes 3D printing such an adaptable technology is that all you need to get started is a file of what you want to print, and it’ll get to work. You can see how this might benefit orthopedics as they have to craft medical products to serve their patients.
Although the industry has come quite far with joint treatments, there’s always room to improve and give people a better quality of life. It can create more accurate models for a patient’s particular needs, but it’s also highly efficient in comparison to past practices. Also known as 3D bioprinting, the technology has done wonders for bone and joint restoration.
It’s also crucial to note that with this technology comes varying costs that can be considered high for some; it’s deemed a vital aspect for advancing orthopedic treatments and the medical industry. 3D printing has been around long enough to prove its worth on more than one occasion, and it’ll continue to become a more common aspect of orthopedic treatments as time goes on.
3D Printing vs. Traditional Methods
Traditional methods are extremely time-consuming, but they also come with a more labor intensive and complicated manufacturing process. Traditional practices include two primary types of manufacturing, which are called subtractive and additive. This process fuses layers of materials with additive manufacturing to create the finished design. In contrast, subtractive manufacturing requires cutting, milling, or molding the initial material to create the desired structure.
Although these practices have been refined over the years, they don’t match the efficiency and accuracy of 3D printing. This new technology may offer substantial results, but it also comes with a few steps before you get a finished product. 3D printing technology continues to evolve and improve with time, but for now, orthopedic and other medical industries can expect to work through the following steps with each design:
- Refining the design’s image
- The refined image gets translated into an STL file
- 3D printer then translates the STL file into G-code so it can print
- The design is then printed while using the G-code information
This is immensely more efficient than traditional methods in orthopedics, and the level of accuracy it provides gives orthopedic treatments much more sufficient results. 3D printing technology can also blend into other processes of orthopedic treatments leading to faster solutions. Many designs are initially crafted using imaging from MRI or CT scans, allowing medical professionals to craft an end product that fits the patient’s needs.
Why Orthopedics Is Moving Toward 3D Printing
We’ve already touched on how efficient and accurate the technology is, but its benefits stretch far past that regarding costs, material waste, and more. Orthopedic surgeons are starting to prefer 3D printing for many reasons, such as less time spent during surgeries, a faster recovery time for patients, and longer-lasting quality for joints and other parts of the musculoskeletal system.
The collaboration between imaging technologies and 3D printing allows surgeons to craft replacement joints that perfectly fit the patient’s’ anatomy. Traditional manufacturing methods leave room for error that isn’t found with 3D printing technology. This technology benefits patients, but it has also been paramount in modern education in orthopedic surgery.
Companies such as Corin Group, Zimmer Biomet, and many others like them didn’t hesitate to focus on 3D printing tech as they understand how it can aid their business and target demographic. It also gives orthopedic surgeons the ability to plan for surgery with precision, as 3D printed models of the targeted area provide an unwavering amount of detail.
This helps surgeons better prepare for what they can expect during surgery, which reduces the potential for human error. As this technology develops, orthopedics will find more ways to apply it to joint replacement and many other musculoskeletal treatments.
How Can 3D Printing Benefit the Workers’ Compensation Industry?
It’s possible to suffer from many different injuries in a work environment, with some being more dangerous than others. Regardless of what industry is in question, various injuries can occur from mere accidents. The worker’s compensation industry has come a long way, offering employees multiple ways to get back on their feet and back to work. 3D printing allows workers’ comp to provide employees with customized devices and implants for specific injuries.
This technology is still in a period of vast development, and although it’s actively being used, its list of applications regarding our health is rapidly expanding. The precision of 3D printing puts employees in a position of recovery that’ll help them avoid new and further injuries down the road. Overall, the worker’s compensation industry will be able to provide solutions that come with a faster recovery, reduce costs and provide a level of customization for patients that have never been seen before.
3D technology is benefiting the medical industry as a whole. Orthopedics is taking the lead in many ways as they often work with musculoskeletal replacements and therapy that require an immense level of precision. Not only can 3D technology meet these requirements, but the tech still has a lot of room to evolve before it reaches its full potential.
About Eric Patten
Eric Patten spent the last 23 of his 29 years in nursing working in the workers compensation arena. He is a strategic operational and business strategist with an extensive clinical experience. He has led and managed both sales and clinical teams. Eric is clinically skilled and driven to succeed. He utilizes a consultative approach to create and manage clinical product lines for customers, he is a national speaker and educator on trending healthcare topics. Eric is known to execute solutions that create customer and company values and growth.
The Kingstree Group, Inc., a national disability management firm, was founded with one goal in mind, to save our customers money by delivering a better service than our competitors. The employer, our customer, benefits from significant savings by means of our proprietary medical service delivery platform.