Did you think 3D printing was dead and buried? Think again
Covid-inspired 3D printing, however, did not revolutionize the medical device market in the way that seemed possible at the start of the pandemic. As the coronavirus began to sweep the world, 3D printing was able to meet a very specific need that arose because lockdowns in every corner of the world meant supply chains instantly collapsed. They were quick to pick up, however, and while 3D printing filled a void, it didn’t, Gershenson says, stepped in to replace traditional manufacturing.
Part of the reason is that although manufacturing is localized, large-scale 3D printing is not as efficient as traditional manufacturing when a large number of individual products are required. When closing its EPI initiative last year, the National 3D Printing Society noted that many injection molding companies had been able to set up across the UK in the previous two months and that the visors that ‘they were producing using a “much more efficient and sustainable method.” Manufacturing “. âInjection molding not only produces the visors in larger quantities, but also increases the consistency and quality of the product,â the organization said.
The issue of quality is essential, especially for products created for use in hospitals. In August last year, a group of academics from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore wrote a paper which highlighted the drawbacks associated with 3D printing of medical devices. Noting that âsafeguarding the lives and well-being of users remains a priority,â they stressed that âit is essential that the 3D printing community works in parallel with healthcare professionals to avoid creating undue risks to public health â.
Gershenson says this became a problem at the start of the pandemic as much of the demand was met by hobbyists who used substandard printers and materials and therefore their products were unable to comply with strict medical standards. âThe problem with 3D printing is, yes, you can do anything, but that doesn’t mean you should,â he says. âSomeone with a 3D printer in their garage can make amazing things they need, but that doesn’t mean they can deliver it to a hospital. What is needed is a quality program. “
In 2019, Gartner noted in its Hype Curve that regulatory constraints were likely to pose a challenge to the growth of 3D printing in the medical sector. Jacobson says 3D printing was able to fill the void at the start of the pandemic because regulators such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration relaxed their rules in order to meet demand.
âThe FDA realized there was a need to relax and all the regulators were issuing guidance saying, ‘You have to be careful, but we understand there is a need for this,’â he says. âIn the United States, they also limited liability, saying that if you do something for Covid, you can’t be sued later – before Covid, if mainstream manufacturers didn’t realize there was something thing flawed but there was a complication, they might still be. held responsible. They can’t do this forever.
The rules may have been relaxed to allow 3D printing to meet a specific medical need, but Jacobson says new rules will need to be established if 3D printing is to reach its full potential. Legislative processes do not evolve quickly, which means it “will probably take a decade,” he says. âThe technology is ready, it is the laws that stand in the way,â he adds. “Legal systems are always slow to catch up, but the time has come [to do it], when it’s fresh on everyone’s mind.
In the meantime, 3D printing is still being used to fill supply chain gaps that have arisen due to the pandemic. Earlier this month, Scottish 3D printing company Abergower launched a Covid-19 test in partnership with Heriot-Watt University’s medical device manufacturing center and Scottish Enterprise’s Scottish manufacturing consultancy. . The project can print up to 25,000 swab kits per day, with the goal of reducing reliance on imported test equipment. The fact that such a scenario has normalized is, for Gershenson, the biggest positive outcome of the pandemic on the 3D printing industry.
âBefore the pandemic hit, when we were trying to explain the model to people, they were like ‘what are you talking about? Â»Â», He said. “The pandemic has hit and people have started printing PPE and now everyone and their grandmother are like, ‘3D printing, local manufacturing, we totally understand that.’
Digital Society is a digital magazine that explores how technology is changing society. It is produced under a publishing partnership with Vontobel, but all content is editorially independent. Visit Vontobel Impact for more stories on how technology is shaping the future of the company.
More interesting stories from WIRED