One of the regular features on our blog includes 3D printing as a vehicle for surgical innovation. This year’s consumer electronics show (CES), in Las Vegas, highlighted multiple new 3D printing technologies. Some of the more interesting ones include the 3Doodler, the new series of Makerbot 3D printers and the new Chef-Jet 3D printer series.
This blog focuses on potential applications of technology similar to Chef-Jet in the field of surgical innovation.
Some of the at-home applications of 3D printing include PLA or ABS plastic based creations. Both PLA and ABS have interesting structural characteristics, and PLA has become the plastic type of choice owing to ease of home use. However, new print media are already coming. Just as 3D printing represents disruptive innovation for multiple existing technologies, the new 3D printers and possible new media are evolving this cutting edge industry at an exciting pace.
For example, new hardware is already displacing certain elements of the market. The 3Doodler, which recently arrived at my home (see photo above), is a handheld pen which utilizes PLA filament so as to allow the user to create plastic objects via additive manufacturing by hand. See the photo above. Letters made in about five minutes with the 3Doodler. These by-hand prints are often not to the resolution of most non-freehand, “traditional” (amazing we can apply the word “traditional” to 3D printing at all) 3D printers. However, these can serve as rough sketches for later, more definitive creations, are rapid, and are amazing in terms of what can be produced quickly.
In addition to the 3doodler, other hardware is already evolving. We described in an earlier blog post the importance of creating an entire ecology around your innovation. As mentioned, Makerbot and other 3D companies have done this with different 3D scanners as part of their system. Makerbot recently released a 3D scanner, and presented an amazing new lineup of printers at the CES conference. These now feature heated build areas, which I can attest would make all the difference when I go to print objects in my cold office. The current Replicator 2, an amazing device itself, would be that much better with one of these heated areas.
One of the interesting, new technologies was recently debuted at CES. This is the Chef-Jet 3D printer. The Chef-Jet 3D printer prints in edible media including sugar, vanilla, chocolate, sour apple, sour cherry and watermelon. This is expected to begin shipping in late 2014. There will be both a professional grade and an at home grade Chef-Jet. Wedding cakes and at-home recipes may never be the same. At this point it is important to mention that the author of this blog post is a stockholder in 3D systems, stock ticker DDD. I have been a stock holder for about 2 years and did not know this technology was coming. However, now that it is here, I couldn’t be more interested.
Now, consider the logical extensions of printers and these new media: Now, surgical innovation is possible with resorbable matrixes and other resorbable scaffolds. That is, we will be able to create, cheaply and effectively, collagen scaffolds for things like drug delivery, eventual tissue ingrowth and other similar devices. Clearly this will make intellectual property and device manufacturing both paramount and in flux over the next several years. In fact, companies in Cambridge, UK, are already making bio-resorbable, implantable, printing filament. Importantly, these tissue scaffolds and similar issues have already been explored. For example, Organovo has explained that a 3D printed liver will be available for pharmaceutical companies on which it may test new drugs by the end of this year…truly amazing.
This blog post highlights some of the interesting twists and turns of what can be described as the 3D printing revolution. The different companies involved are poised to truly disrupt, in a positive way, the manner in which we have done things. In surgery, this is coming and, in fact, is already here. The new generation of 3D printers, some of which debuted in 2014 at CES are already here and soon will allow hospitals across the country to purchase the ability to make biodegradable implements. Indeed, there are already English manufactures that make filaments for 3D printers that are implantable. Check back in our blog often for updates regarding the 3D printing revolution and its impact on surgery in the coming months.