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3D Printing Revolutionized the Medical Device Industry – and is Revolutionizing Yours. What will you do?

by Pete Basiliere  |  October 15, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

Patriot’s Day, April 15, 2013 was a public holiday in Boston. And as it had since 1897, Boston hosted a race — the 26.2 mile Boston Marathon. But this marathon was to be like no other marathon, ever.

The race kicked off at 12:00 noon. Over 17,500 runners and people with disabilities participated. Most of them people just like you and I. It was a perfect day. A bright sun was shining. The Red Sox won at Fenway. A glorious holiday, when nothing could go wrong.

Until 2:49 p.m.

Boston Marathon Bombing Aftermath

The Boston Marathon bombing killed three people and injured 264 others. At least 15 people had limbs amputated. But the injured were within one mile of some of the best hospitals on Earth.

The best emergency personnel, the best doctors, the best nurses, the best medicine, the best medical devices.

And they were hurt in one of the most generous countries on Earth — One Fund Boston received more than $70 million in donations for the victims and their families. This money just begins to offset a lifetime of medical care — and of artificial limbs costing as much as $50,000 each.

On the same day, half a world away, a wave of bombings and shootings across Iraq killed at least 75 people and injured more than 350 others. Why? To keep people from voting in the elections that were just a few weeks away.

Do you think the victims and their families benefited from millions of dollars in donations and some of the best medical care on Earth? Did they receive the latest medications and medical devices?

A profound gap in medical care exists between their world and ours — a gap that is closing through the use of 3D printers.

That fall, Mick Ebeling, the founder of Not Impossible Labs, went to Africa, to the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. Mick’s purpose was to give hope and independence back to a kid, Daniel Omar. Two years earlier, Daniel lost one arm at his shoulder and the other at his forearm during the Sudanese civil war.

You see, Daniel was tending his family’s herd of cows when a bombing run began. He hid behind a tree. But he hugged the tree. The tree saved his life. The bomb tore his limbs off.

Daniel went from being a 14-year-old supporting his family to a life of total dependence on others.  Mick took a $2,500 3D printer to Daniel’s village, where — with $50 worth of material — he printed the plastic components of Daniel’s prosthetic arm and hand.

Mick also trained local clinicians on how to use the 3D printer and software. After he left, the locals were using that $2,500 3D printer to make one prosthetic limb a week.

Think about it — a prosthetic for $50,000 or $50.

An inexpensive, 3D printed limb will do when the $50,000 one is not available.

3D printing has incredible life-altering potential.

Enabling the Future and the “3D Mechanical Hand-Maker Movement” was inspired by two strangers, a prop maker from the U.S. and a carpenter from South Africa who were separated by 10,000 miles. They came together online to create a prosthetic hand device for a small child in South Africa — and then gave the plans away for free — so that people in need of the prosthetic could make it for themselves or have someone make it for them.

What originally started out as a couple of guys who created something to help one child in need has grown into a worldwide movement of tinkerers, engineers and occupational therapists, of artists, designers, of students and professors, of 3D print enthusiasts — of parents, families and people just like you and I — who just want to make a difference.

I submit to you that the ability to 3D print a prosthetic hand, or other adaptive device, at home — or at your local public library as I did — may be the killer app that drives consumer use of 3D printers.

Mechanical Hand and Cookie - palm view

Because, after all, consumer 3D printing is very much a social event in which you have to show off your creation.

And after printing trinkets for the house, gifts for friends and projects for school, what can be more satisfying than printing something for someone in need?

If you think the 3D printing revolution is not happening to your industry then you are mistaken. Learn from the medical device industry — 3D printing is transforming your industry right now.

Here’s how . . .

Democratization, innovation, production — these are the 3 key reasons that I want you to think about.

Democratization is the ability of anyone — even a geographically dispersed group of people who collaborate through a common website — to use 3D printers and other basic tools and electronics to create new products. Democratization threatens traditional business models that imply only businesses can innovate and bring new products to market.

Innovation is the ability to 3D print unique products — ranging from children’s toys to jewelry to drones to liver tissue — that stretch the designer’s imagination. Innovation is about making things with 3D printing that cannot possibly be made with any other technology.

Production is the ability to economically 3D print truly custom items such as dental crowns and braces and create an entirely new industry. Production includes not only one-off items and mass customization but also short runs of identical products.

Dental implants, prototypes, architectural models, assembly jigs. Designer bowls, custom-made athletic shoes. Jewelry, student-designed musical instruments, finished goods.

These and many more use cases for 3D printing exist today.

3D printing is revolutionizing one industry after another. But what excites me the most is the medical device field.

Luke and Robohand

Luke, the prosthetic limb on the left, is the product of a $40 million grant. It was developed by DEKA, inventor Dean Kamen’s company, the same company that created the Segway and a stair-climbing wheelchair.

Designed for fully grown adults and Wounded Warriors, it can pick a credit card up from a table.

But what about children? Children in the States, children in war-torn countries?

The Robohand was designed by an ordinary person and made with a MakerBot — and it costs $50, not the millions that Luke did. But progressively bigger hands can be made as the child grows.

The medical device industry has been revolutionized by 3D printing.

Your industry is being revolutionized, too.

What will you do?


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Tags: 3-d-print  3d-print  3d-printer  additive-manufacturing  align-technology  enablingthefuture-org  invisaligner  maker  makers  mick-ebeling  not-impossible-labs  project-daniel  

Pete Basiliere
Research Vice President
12 years at Gartner
18 years IT Industry

Mr. Basiliere provides research-based insights on 3D printing and digital printing hardware, software and materials. Mr. Basiliere's Maverick research coined the term Generation AI, people born after 2010 who will not know a world without application intelligence in their lives. Read Full Bio

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