Additive Manufacturing - Improving Human Life via Medical Components

Date: 2020-07-02
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Additive Manufacturing - Improving Human Life via Medical Components

Additive manufacturing (AM) is a technology that is best suited for making customized parts that are tailor-made for specific geometries and specifications. In situations where a person has faced severe injuries whether from accident or military action may require reconstructive surgery for getting back to normal life. In such situations, such parts can be reconstructed using titanium or stainless steel after a proper CT scan of the injury area. This can be done within a day providing the crucial time for survival. In this situation, Additive manufacturing becomes a lifesaver! 

In mainstream medical manufacturing, if the elderly need a knee replacement, they will specifically come in standard sizes with standard specifications that the doctor shall prescribe. Additive manufacturing currently can provide this solution, however, for AM to achieve mass-scale production of such components will require another 5 years. This is primarily because currently, the cost of making medical prosthetics is cheaper with other competing technologies than that of additive manufacturing. However, with lower costs of machines, lower input costs and availability of skilled workforce and rapid penetration of AM will make AM a force to reckon with in 5-10 years or by 2030! 

The acceptance and medical standards will be amended making additive manufacturing as competitive as other technologies for the manufacturing of medical components on a mass scale in the future. Additive manufacturing is on the path of evolution, but it requires patience and careful observation of the market conditions. Therefore, there is immense scope for the additive manufacturing industry.

Advantages offered by AM

Medical prosthetics or devices don’t really call for structural performance however there are two very distinct advantages that additive manufacturing provides for the end-users:

Rapid manufacturing: In a day around several hundred components can be manufactured to custom designs. 

Negligible waste of raw materials: For expensive transplants which include the usage of raw materials like Inconel or titanium, additive manufacturing reduces the cost of the input raw materials thus making the process of manufacturing viable for the manufacturers. 

AM vis-à-vis existing technologies

AM and competing technologies are more-or-less on the same page because, in the case of medical prosthetics, all of them need to undergo stringent medical certifications. The manufacturing process does not matter as long as the component getting manufactured fits the specification of the end-user. 

Additive manufacturing uses raw materials like spherical powders for the manufacture of components. Competing technologies will use wrought and cast technologies coupled with machining to achieve similar results. AM is a better approach when it comes to customization as compared to the conventional approaches.

Economic return for the entrepreneurs 

Given any industry, if invested wisely and have specific components in mind that will garnish the market share the return on investment will be 4-7 years. The time for return on investment will come down as the industry is still a niche industry with a high growth rate. Therefore, entrepreneurs planning on business ventures in this industry should plan it now with 2030 as the horizon. 

AM and Cost-effectiveness

At present, AM is the only technology that customizes components in small quantities. The cost-effectiveness is not at par with other technologies but as the volume of production goes up and the cost of machinery and raw materials comes down, the cost-effectiveness shall increase. But for now, a cost-benefit analysis needed to compare all technologies to arrive at the best solution. 


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