Posted: October 1, 2015 |  AUTHOR: KEN FOX | CONTACT ME


3D printing (additive manufacturing) converts digital data input from software into printed parts using plastic, metal, nylon, rubber and composite materials.

One can tour a state-of-the art 3D Printing facility in Florence, South Carolina, USA, the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology ( The facility has two large rooms dedicated to 3D printing. One room uses various “powders” (engineered nylon, plastic, etc.) as input to the 3D printers. The machines and applications in this room are typically used  for producing models or prototypes not requiring finished products of high strength of exacting tolerances.

Above photo: 3D Printed surgical instruments could boost surgery access in low income countries

The second room utilized spools of various of types metal wire, including: stainless steel, aluminum alloys, cobalt-chromium and nickel based superalloys, copper alloys and precious metals (gold, platinum and silver). The selected wire is fed into more sophisticated 3D machines than seen in the first room (using powders). These wires are fed into the 3D machines, melted and used to create objects with exacting tolerances and requirements. Output from these machines can include prosthetics for medical use, race car, aircraft engine and replacement parts for machines.

GE Engineers created this model of a GEnx jet engine using an advanced 3-D printing technique called direct laser melting. This manufacturing method is producing an increasing list of parts for multiple industries, making stronger components with less material waste than traditional methods.

Generating 3D printed items has gotten easier. A manager or executive can even draw a picture on a paper napkin, and then give it to an engineer who will utilize a CAD or similar computer system. Using the appropriate software, the engineer will send the CAD generated drawing to a 3D print machine to produce the desired object, part or prototype. 

While 3D printing has been in existence for over 30 years, it’s use has increased as 3D printing has benefited from reduced machine cost, increased government and corporate spending support, smaller sized machines and improved computer software. 3D printing is increasingly used in: automotive, medical, dental, aerospace, electronics and consumer applications.

The medical field is benefitting greatly from this technology with companies specializing in “bioprinting.” This includes creating 3D printed models of cancerous tumors, organs or tissue. These products can be used  to facilitate clinical trials, medical diagnostics, and  improved patient outcomes.


Bioprinting creates a functional ear or a synthetic tracheal cartilage

Using 3D and bioprinted body organs, tissue and skeletal bones or structures can generate challenges in terms of usage. These include ethical issues, patient consent, regulatory clearance and costs for testing. However, 3D printing use in the medical field is growing. The following are selected global trends, innovations and selected companies using this technology.

1. September 2015, the Chinese Food & Drug Administration (CFDA) approved 3D printed hip implants in their country. Before this ruling, hip implants were imported from other countries, often resulting in higher prices.

2. In June 2015, a Belgian company Materilise NV (NASDAQ: MTLS) and Beijing based Fuwai Hospital formed a partnership to open a 3D printing center, initially to build heart models. Materialise offers software and capabilities to produce joint replacement and craniofacial implants. Their products are distributed through Biomet, DJO Surgical, Synthes and Zimmer.

3. San Diego, U.S. based Organovo Holdings (NYSE: ONVO) is creating 3D printed organs and tissue which can be used in implants and clinical testing. The company is hoping its 3D bioprinting technology has the potential to significantly impact the speed and predictability of drug discovery. Additionally, Organovo wants to help create tissues for direct therapeutic use to augment or replace damaged or degrading organs needing a transplant.

4. Stryker (NYSE: SYK) uses 3D printing to create its cement-less, titanium knee replacement system.

5. Stratasys Ltd. (NASDAQ: SSYS) recently introduced a Objet30 Dental Prime 3D low cost printer designed to allow smaller dental labs to produce a range of models (i.e., crowns and bridges, surgical guides, etc.) and appliances in-house. It reduces the need to outsource and allows the smaller labs be more competitive.

Universities are also advancing the viability of new3D printing medical applications including:

a. Salamanca University Hospital (Spain) performed the first known  surgery with a 3D printed titanium sternum and rib implant on a cancer patient diagnosed with chest wall sarcoma. The product was produced by Australia based Anatomics Pty LTD, which created a 3D reconstruction of the chest wall using high resolution CT data. 

b. Doctors at the University Medical Center Utrecht (The Netherlands) successfully replaced the top part of a patient’s skull with a 3D printed implant (shown below). The implant helped the patient restore vision and motor coordination as well. 

c. In May 2013, Princeton University (USA) engineers used a 3D printer to create a bionic human ear with an antenna woven into the cartilage.

d. Harvard University’s Wyss Institute (USA) created bone-marrow-on-a-chip technology for drug testing. The device mimics live bone marrow and may provide a more accurate alternative to animal testing in clinical trials.

e. Cornell University (USA) is developing and testing heart valves and ear cartilage using 3D technology.

f. The University of Louisville (Kentucky, USA) researchers created a model of a child’s heart (shown below) from a CT scan to better prepare for needed surgery, which saved her life.


The use of 3D printing in medical work is revolutionary. Its applications are expanding and people’s lives are being saved in new ways. Collaborations between private sector companies and universities of all types are taking place to make breakthrough discoveries. We expect to see 3D printing to facilitate benefits in replacing human organs, skin and reconstructive bone. Other 3D printing advances being tested include: prosthetic eyes,  heel and hip implants and replacing the upper jaw.

Many experts do not think we will see complex 3D printed organs, suitable for transplants, for years if not decades. Instead, they say, the next step will be printing strips of tissue or patches which can be used to repair livers and other damaged organs (Ref: CNN). However, I hypothesize university hospitals globally will push the limits of organ and body part replacements as experiments or to save lives.

Advances in smaller and less costly 3D printers and materials will allow more consumers to use and experiment with 3D printing for a multitude of products, from toys, jewelry, automobile replacement parts and the like.

3D printing in the medical field could meaningfully increase the availability of alternatives approaches for treating patients in far off places, who would not readily have these options.


  1. 3-D Printing Grows to Scale Within Industry, Emily Wasserman, Fierce Medical Devices, July 23, 2014.
  2. China FDA Signs Off on 3-D Printed Hip Implants, Emily Wasserman, Fierce Medical Devices, September 3, 2015.
  3. Medical 3-D Printing Will Enable a New Kind of Future, Peter Mellgrad, The World Post, updated June 22, 2015.
  4. 5 Key Trends in 3D Printing Medical Device Market, Laura Dyrda, Beckers Spine Review, March 5, 2015.
  5. 12 Things We Can 3D Print in Medicine Right Now, 3D Printing Industry, February 26, 2015.
  6. Investor Overview: about Organovo Holdings, Inc.
  7. Breakthrough Surgeons Use 3-D Printing Technology to Perform World’s First Skull Transplant, Matthew Mientka, Medical Daily, March 29, 2014
  8. 3D Model of Child’s Heart Helps Surgeons Save Life, U of L Today, Sept. 2014
  9. The Next Frontier in 3-D Printing: Human Organs, Brandon Griggs, CNN, April 5, 2014
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©2017, The Global Galaxy blog is produced by The Soundings Group, LLC, Charleston, South Carolina, USA, The company is an international business consulting firm, specializing in new market assessments, market entry strategies and marketing guidance. The scope of Global Galaxy is to cover timely international trends, issues and business building ideas. Its purpose is to educate, inform and stimulate thinking for business opportunity analyses.