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3D printing of hearing aids and dental devices reaches mainstream

Gartner says medical use of 3D printing is evolving rapidly, particularly when it comes to producing medical items tailored to individuals

The 3D printing of medical products such as hearing aids and dental devices has now become mainstream, according to Gartner.

The researcher’s 2015 Hype Cycle for 3D Printing report found that 3D printing technology has “progressed rapidly in recent years”, and is already becoming the norm in certain areas of healthcare.

Pete Basiliere, research director at Gartner, said 3D printing of hearing devices is “rapidly evolving” and that the technology is “already in mainstream use” when it comes to producing medical items tailored to individuals.

“All the major hearing aid manufacturers now offer devices that are personalised to the shape of the customer's ear,” he added.

“This is evidence that using 3D printing for mass customisation of consumer goods is now viable, especially given that the transition from traditional manufacturing in this market took less than two years. Routine use of 3D printing for dental implants is also not far from this level of market maturity.”

Other areas, such as 3D hip and knee replacements and “common internal and external medical devices”, are two to five years away from becoming mainstream, said Gartner. Three 3D hip replacements took place in England last year.

3D bioprinting, which consists of printing products that function like human organs, is still in its early stages and 10-15 years away from mainstream adoption, but Gartner recommended that CIOs track developments in the field.

The report said healthcare provider CIOs, CMIOs and other IT and medical personnel would in the future be able to use 3D bioprinting and other technologies for precision medicine and “rebuilding the body to model a new construct for the scope of IT services”.

“As IT gets ever closer to not only supporting medical tasks, workflows and clinical decision-making, but also to the delivery of medical procedures, CIOs must have clinical engineering/biomedical device management department leaders,” Gartner said.

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This is absolutely fascinating, but part of me wonders how they are going to create a hard enough material to replace human teeth that can be effectively printed and yet stand up to the wear and tear of daily grinding use. Intriguing nonetheless.
Soon I suspect that we'll be able to 3D print most everything we need as we inch toward Star Trek replicator functionality.

Some restaurants print pasta to order. We're already making prosthetics to replace hands and feet. And now MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab has demonstrated a 3D printer that can use 10 different materials in a single pass. All for a total cost of $7,000 with off-the-shelf components.

I can't imagine that human organs and teeth and bones will be very far behind, well before 10 years have passed. Made to order, while you wait, down at Kinko....
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