Although 3D printing technology has been around since the 1980s, advances in software and hardware are changing the way 3D printing is being used. Especially 3D printing in healthcare, a Wall Street Journal article said.
Gartner, a research firm, predicts that by 2019, 10% of people in the developed world will be living with 3D printed items on or in their bodies, the article said. Furthermore, Gartner also predicted that 3D printing will be a central tool in more than one-third of surgical procedures involving prosthetics and implanted devices.
The article cited another research firm, IndustryARC, which predicts that the overall market for 3D printing in healthcare will grow to $1.21 billion by 2020. That’s up from $660 million in 2016.
Anurag Gupta, vice president of research at Gartner, told the Wall Street Journal that 3D printing in healthcare “could have the transformative impact of the Internet or cloud computing a few years ago.”
One area where 3D printing in healthcare may hold particular promise is in the manufacturing of drugs, the article said. 3D printing could help with the dose and the shape of the medication that would be best suited to certain groups of patients.
Printing whole organs, the article said, is the Holy Grail. However, this is still more than a decade away, the article said.
Despite all the promise 3D printing holds for healthcare, there are some expensive challenges. For example, industrial 3D printers for hospitals can range from $10,000 to $400,000, the article said.
There is also a “hidden cost” of operating 3D printers, Jimmie Beacham who leads GE Healthcare’s 3D printing strategy, told the Wall Street Journal. He explained that engineers are required to transform dense digital images from an MRI or CT or ultrasound scan into information that can be printed into a 3D model.
Furthermore, the article pointed out that printing a 3D object takes time — a lot of time. For example, it took 60 hours for the Mayo Clinic to print a patient’s pelvis and subsequent tumor, the article said.