With the global market for implants in particular growing to meet the demand of a larger elderly population and an active athletic younger population, additive manufacturing offers a cost-effective way to meet this growing need. In addition to cost savings, additive manufacturing offers the use of technologically advanced materials; rapid development and prototyping, on-demand manufacturing; comparatively easy construction of complex lattices, forms, and shapes; and implants customized for an individual patient. For many of the same reasons additive manufacturing is receiving a lot of attention in the aerospace industry.
The principles of additive manufacturing are simple. A computer makes a digital model of an object is made, and then slices it layer by layer. The 3D printer then deposits the construction material, which can be anything from a plastic polymer to an advanced metal alloy. While the principles are simple, the actual process is far more complicated depending upon the design and the materials being used.
The FDA’s Office of Science and Engineering Laboratories continue to investigate the implications of additive manufacturing on future medical device design and construction, and their corresponding regulation. For more information about 3D technology and how the University of Michigan team created the splints that saved Garrett Peterson's life, see the YouTube videos below.