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3D printing makes headway in healthcare and manufacturing in Singapore

3D printing is increasingly being used in Singapore, with hospitals and manufacturers early adopters of the technology

3D printing technology is being used in Singapore to produce heart models and industrial parts in the healthcare and manufacturing industries.

The cardiac centre at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) is using 3D printed heart models for clinical education. Eight models, each depicting a different congenital heart disease in actual patients, provide insights that can help cardiothoracic surgeons plan complex procedures.

Children have much smaller chest cavities and smaller hearts than adults, which makes surgery for congenital heart defects in children more challenging.

But a 3D printed heart provides a good model for simulation-based training, especially when pathology specimens of real hearts may not be readily available.

“Our pre-surgical preparatory work was previously guided by our hands-on experience, but these 3D printed heart models have enabled us to be more efficient and precise, especially with patients with complex anatomies,” said Dr Nakao Masakazu, consultant at the KKH’s cardiothoracic surgery service.

Historically, two-dimensional echocardiography is used to diagnose and manage structural and congenital heart disease, but this often lacks critical spatial information.

Dr Chen Ching Kit, consultant in the KKH cardiology service, said: “The advancement of 3D printing technology has enabled us to examine the heart – a 3D structure – in an actual 3D format, which can be held in our hands. This is more useful than simply trying to imagine the structure from 2D images.”

The KKH cardiac centre is Singapore’s main paediatric cardiology referral centre and performs an average of 200 surgical procedures a year. It is also an academic medical centre and a major teaching hospital for the city state’s three medical schools.

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Meanwhile, US 3D printing company Fast Radius is to open a factory at a UPS site in Singapore by the end of the year.

The company’s Fast Radius On Demand Production Platform is used to produce industrial parts, which are then delivered to manufacturers via UPS’s transport network.

The service enables companies to virtualise their inventory by reducing the number of parts made “just in case” and allows them to produce smaller quantities cost-effectively, as well as minimising lead times because parts are produced closer to where they are needed.  

“3D printing will have a significant impact on industrial manufacturing and 21st century supply chains,” said Ross McCullough, president of UPS, Asia Pacific region. “We believe that, much as e-commerce digitised and transformed retail, 3D printing will have a similar impact on manufacturing.

“UPS has established an on-demand 3D printing manufacturing and logistics network in Asia.”

Slower adoption in Asean

The adoption of 3D print technologies has been slower within the Asean region mainly because the technology was first invented in the US 30 years ago and then migrated to western Europe, said Pete Basiliere, research vice-president at Gartner. “The adoption of 3D printing has accelerated from that small base,” he added.

According to Gartner’s latest market forecast, the Asia Pacific region will buy 3D printers at a compound annual growth rate of 99.6% up to 2020.

Today, 3D printing affects almost every industry, said Basiliere. Aerospace, automotive, consumer goods, medical devices, military hardware and other industries use 3D printing to create prototypes for new products, create tools to make other items, and produce finished goods such as car parts, medical implants and jewellery, he said.

By 2019, 10% of people in the developed world will be living with 3D-printed items on or in their bodies, according to Gartner.

“The medical/surgical category [in 3D printing] is poised for high growth and high impact,” said Basiliere. “The technology is used to produce dental crowns, hearing aids and prosthetics, and is involved in frequent surgical procedures, such as hips or knees, with a wide range of life-altering implants.”

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