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3D Printing Drives the Medical Market

July 11, 2019
The three drivers growing the medical 3D printing industry are not necessarily the most advanced technologies.

Whether you realized it or not, you have probably already seen 3D printing in your everyday life. Perhaps you’ve driven in a car that used 3D printing in the development phase or flown in a plane that had 3D-printed parts. Or if you had surgery, you might have had 3D-printed tools guiding the doctors.

From medical training to the operating table, companies are making healthcare a top priority. It is no secret that 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, can favor markets with high cost, complexity, and low-volume. Well, the human body is complex, low-volume, and (at least in the U.S.) high in cost. The market is also growing for many reason, but a few that have been mentioned are:

  • An older population that is living longer, leading to an increased demand for dental work, hearing aids, and implants.
  • An increase in diabetes and injuries, which can lead to more amputations.
  • Wearable medical devices.

3D-Printed Medical Market

These are just some of the reasons why there is a high demand for greater customizability in the medical industry. Additionally, the U.S. has been adopting more 3D printing practices. This may be why the Americas held the largest share of the market in 2018, accounting for close to 46%, according to Business Wire also presented the finding s of a Technavio report that forecasted “40% of the growth will originate from the Americas,” in the years to come.

Technavio: The company forecasted a global 3D printing medical devices market to grow at a CAGR of more than 23% by 2023.

Global News Wire: The report predicts the global 3D printing medical device market to grow with a CAGR of 17.5% over the forecast period from 2018-2024.

Allied Market Research: The global 3D printing healthcare market was valued at $579 million in 2014 and is expected to garner $2,319.5 million by 2020, registering a CAGR of 26.2% during the forecast period 2015-2020.

Reuters: The global 3D printing medical devices market is expected to grow during the forecast period (2018–2023) at a CAGR of approximately 18%.

Cardiac, orthopedic and cranio maxillofacial models complete with vascular structure and have been historically difficult to 3D print. This model of a cerebral aneurysm allows for optimal selection of devices and treatment approach. (Credit: HP and Materialise)

Drivers of 3D Printing in Medical

At the Rapid and TCT Conference in May (2019) there were two announcements targeting three trends that are driving 3D printing in the medical market:

  • Certification
  • Collaboration
  • Materials


A large driver in 3D printing in many verticals is the ability to guarantee part quality and properties. Even with the same process and materials there might be some variance that in highly-regulated fields isn’t acceptable. Different materials suppliers, machines, process, and process parameters could all affect the finished product.  

The benefits of these certifications are that they offer a solid foundation to start from and less overhead. Software is becoming more important, as if there is a batch of material found to have any issues, a digital thread will be able to show exactly where the batch came from, what parts where made with it, and what patient might be affected. This also streamlines auditing that can be a costly process for companies.


According to the 2017 Machine Design article Tech Forecast for 3D Printing,” “Mergers and acquisition will play a large role in the future of additive manufacturing.” It didn’t take a crystal ball to predict this, but mergers, acquisition, and collaboration continue to be drivers in the 3D printing industry.

The power of 3D printing allow for pre-surgical planning and simulation to prepare a team to repair a defect for a complex pediatric heart condition. This model of a congenital heart displays a double outlet right ventricle. (Credit: Materialise and HP)

At the Rapid and TCT Conference in Detroit this past May, several press releases addressed collaboration. Materialise and HP expanded their partnership, with Materialise certifying the HP Jet Fusion 580/380 3D printing solutions, in combination with Mimics software technology, for printing full-color anatomical models for diagnostic and surgical planning processes. Among the highlights:

  • Materialise Build Processor supports the full HP Jet Fusion 3D printing portfolio.
  • Customers can take advantage of free six-month access to Materialise Magics Essentials software with purchase of a HP Jet Fusion 300/500 Series printer.
  • Materialise certifies HP to print anatomical models for diagnostic use including surgical planning.

“Recent advances in technology have created new excitement and growing awareness for 3D printing as a relevant complementary manufacturing technology that will help to transform the factory floor,” said Fried Vancraen, Materialise’s founder and CEO. “Triggered by potential design optimizations and the ability to scale and achieve mass-customization, manufacturers recognize the economic advantages and are preparing for full-scale 3D printing production runs.”

Medical professionals can use the HP Jet Fusion 580/380 3D printers, in combination with Mimics software technology, to print robust full-color anatomical models for diagnostic and surgical planning processes, delivering broad benefits for patient-specific care.

It is critical to address potential challenges for healthcare providers by ensuring 3D operations are compatible and able to meet quality standards for patient-specific 3D anatomical models. “Leading hospitals are adopting integrated 3D printing services as part of their medical practices as they recognize the added value it brings to personalized patient care,” says Lee Dockstader, director of vertical market Development, HP 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing. 

At the same Rapid event, another press release mentioned cooperation between Solvay and Stratasys to develop new high-performance additive manufacturing (AM) filaments for exclusive use in Stratasys’ FDM F900. This was an initial step to establish an authorized materials partner program to expand the range of high-performance polymers available to manufacturers leveraging the FDM process.

According to Solvay, Stratasys’ customers were asking for more high-performance materials, while Solvay’s customers wanted more high-performance polymers to use in FDM machines. As part of the cooperation the companies worked together to develop a high-performance AM filament based on a polyphenylsulfone (PPSU) polymer that will meet flammability requirements (FAR 25.853) in aerospace applications.  This new PPSU filament will be available in 2020.

Solvay’s new line of healthcare grade polymers passed ISO 10993 limited contact testing (having less than 24 hours’ contact with bodily fluids and tissue).

These partnerships and cooperation agreements show a trend of more open communication between industry and OEMs. As manufactures and customers use digital and connected tools, transparency between what customers want and what OEMs produce will have stronger alignments. Additionally, as digital manufacturing and 3D printing advances, the ability for OEMs to produce personalised demands for customers will grow. Manufacturers that keep up with this technology will stay competitive and grow market share.


Previously, titanium was often used for surgical tools and implants. For 3D printing, titanium meant a much more complex and expensive process. However, with the development of higher-performance polymers are offering a more diverse medical materials palate.

This model of a skull with a defect requiring prosthesis was reconstructed from a patient CT scan using Materialise’s Mimics Innovation Suite and printed with the HP Jet Fusion 580. It enables allows for a custom prosthesis for the patient.

In the last few years there has been talk about polyetheretherketone (PEEK), polyetherketoneketone (PEKK), and now polyphenylsulfone (PPSU) materials are being used in 3D printing processes for medical applications. In a paper published by NCBI in 2018, “PEEK has been used, mainly in the reconstructive surgeries as a reliable alternative to other alloplastic materials for the fabrication of patient specific implants. Recently, it has become possible to fabricate PEEK patient specific implants with Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) [or FDM] technology. 3D printing of PEEK using FFF allows construction of almost any complex design geometry, which cannot be manufactured using other technologies.” Additionally, implants or tools that do require the properties of something stronger, such as titanium can still produce a better match and shorter timelines than traditional processes.

Implants are only part of where 3D printing is being used in medical. Some of the largest uses are for training, prosthetics, and guides. Even non-medically certified machines and materials are being pulled into the medical field.

Prosthetics and medical devices used on the exterior of the body don’t require the same stringent FDA regulation. For example, E-Nable is an online community of Makers and tinkerers, that have printed tens of thousands of prosthetics for children. If a prosthetic made with traditional processes, the patient might outgrow it before the device arrives. In addition, the number of devices a younger patient would need to have made would be too expensive for most families.

Training and surgery cost can be reduced by using MRI and CT scans of a body and make a replica. Letting the doctor or student hold—and even in some cases, cut—a realistic model before entering the operating room can ensure all the right tools are in the room, reduce surprises, and reduce the overall time in the OR.

Drill guides comprise a large part of how 3D printing is saving time and money during operations. Free-hand drilling into the body sounds much more difficult, dangerous, and time-consuming for the doctor. (Credit: Materialise)

Guides are another large part of 3D printing in the medical industry. Since the base of a guide can be 3D printed to match the surface that is being cut and/or drilled, precise placement is easy. Once in place, other geometries can determine the depths, angles, and size of holes or cuts. In addition, applications that require drilling into bone can be difficult. Guides help ensure slip free accurate placement of holes and incisions.  

This is all technology that has already been used, and its use continues to grow. These technologies are all relatively simple, easy-to-use, cost effective machines and materials that could be quickly integrated into many medical facilities. As communication between customers and OEMs, and between businesses becomes stronger we will see more certifications and collaboration that will increase the use of 3D printing in the medical industry. Even if healthcare costs are reduced in the U.S., 3D printing will continue to grow because of its personalization and customization capabilities. In an industry where every part is complex and custom, 3D printing will continue to strive.

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