3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, involves printing layers of material into a 3 dimensional object, and it’s been disrupting the manufacturing industry. How big is this? The Economist has called it the 3rd Industrial Revolution. And in the next decade, it looks like it could disrupt just about every industry in health care.
According to Boston’s Lux Research, 3D printing was a $777 million industry in 2012, with 95% going into automotive and aerospace. And by 2025, they expect the market to grow to $8.4 billion, with the medical market growing from $11 million in 2012 to $1.9 billion in 2025.
3D Printing in Health Care is not new to some in the drug world where it has early applications. What’s new is that in the next few years, there are a lot of other applications that will reach prime time.
Here is a sampling of how it’s already being applied in health care:
- Bionic ear (Princeton University)
- Partial skull replacement
- Airway splint
- Prosthetic face
- Prosthetic arms
- Hearing aids
- Dental fixtures
- Human tissue. Yes, you read that right.
Bioprinting Human Tissue and Organs
Bioprinting involves laying down layers of cells to create tissue. Examples:
- Printing skin to help wounds heal faster
- Knee cartilage, heart valves, bone implants
- Testing Tissue in drug development. This is happening today, and it’s allowing testing on 3D tissue rather than 2D cell cultures. Organovo, a San Diego company in the regenerative medicine space is the first company to launch a 3D bioprinter, and is printing to order functional human tissue for research and therapies, including blood vessels, lung tissue, and recreated tumors.
What about functional organs for transplants? We’re still 10 years out.
But there are significant challenges. 3D printing materials are still costlier than their analog counterparts, but prices will drop. That will make reimbursement challenging. And 3D products in general have shown that they’re as good as traditional products, but not superior.
We’re just at the start of something big. From Lux Research:
“In the longer term, 3D printing has the potential to reshape the manufacturing ecosystem, but it will have the most impact in the near term for products that are made in small volumes, require high customization, and are more cost-tolerant. To survive the hype and subsequent fall-out, winners will identify and serve new applications early and often through nimble materials, application development and business models.”