Healthcare is the most trusted industry today, owing to its frontline role in the fight against COVID-19. The World Health Organisation (WHO) characterised COVID-19 as a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Following this, the world witnessed an alarming increase in the number of coronavirus positive cases, across the globe. Healthcare institutions in every country braced themselves for an overwhelming surge in patient numbers. But the exponential growth in the spread of the virus revealed the shortage in the global capacity for medical equipment; especially in the availability of face masks and the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which are vital in protecting doctors, nurses and other professionals who work near infected patients. A major factor influencing this shortage was the disruption in the manufacturing supply chain, ironically, caused by the pandemic. With international shutdowns and transport restrictions, manufacturers could do little to help overcome this situation. At times like these is when unconventional manufacturing techniques like Additive Manufacturing (AM) step-up and use their unique characteristics to enable the Healthcare industry with its critical needs.
A healthcare worker tending to COVID-positive patients requires a PPE Kit made of high-quality materials. For a long time, this equipment was manufactured traditionally following a set of protocols. However, not every country was equipped to manufacture all the equipment locally, at least not with the raw materials. Also, in cases like in India, there were no pre-existing standard instructions on quality, from a Government body, to manufacture the right PPE Kits for this type of pandemic. With a broken global supply chain, there was no way for production to meet the demands. This is where additive manufacturing has become a recourse to the medical industry.
Additive manufacturing reduces the dependence on the conventional supply chain. The technology is capable of on-demand production bringing scalability to manufacturing. Few organisations who use AM in their manufacturing processes produced replacement parts for medical ventilators. Others, including few educational institutions have leveraged the technology to develop face shields and face masks to answer the demand by healthcare facilities. Besides solving for the direct medical needs, AM has also enabled manufacturers to develop hygiene and safety products like hands free door handles and pedals.
While it is uncertain when the current coronavirus pandemic will face a definitive end, additive manufacturing, and its community’s resolve towards fighting the COVID crisis offers a positive outlook for the future.
Additive Manufacturing and its use cases in the medical industry has experienced immense growth. 3D printing allows for rapid response, which is key in healthcare. In the fields of dental care and orthopaedics implants, AM has showcased to be a promising alternative to traditional manufacturing. 3D printing enhances functional integration, which in the case of producing orthoses or prostheses, ensures maximum functionality. Prostheses produced using AM can offer amputees customisation that allows a precise fit. Conventional production may have some limitation in terms of speed and accuracy due to dependence on tasks like casting, moulding, and milling, which are expensive. AM is a cost-efficient method of production, with minimal wastage, as even the polymers used in 3D printing are mostly reusable.
3D printing is a faster manufacturing technique because of its digital manufacturing capabilities. Patient’s data is used digitally to create the design of their orthoses or prostheses. Any changes in design do not require changes to moulds or casts, but simply in the digital design. When we talk about medical equipment, if surgeons or doctors require a special customised tool AM can deliver it in the shortest amount of time; all it takes is designing and printing. 3D printing has also helped the pharmaceutical drug industry, specifically in performing their clinical studies. During clinical studies for new drugs, the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) is mixed with excipients in different dosages to test its effectiveness, harmfulness, and other responses. Conventionally, producing testing drugs with variations in dosages is time consuming and costly. With AM the process is shortened to simply mixing and printing. This capability would ensure significant reduction in time for creating new drugs and performing clinical trials. This would result in better preparedness during any future events like the COVID pandemic.
Additive Manufacturing has transformed the medical landscape due to the option of having an easily distributed supply chain. Solutions developed in one corner of the world can be digitally shared to another. AM offers design freedom, which empowers multiple players to research and develop modern solutions. Medical equipment is required to follow compliance and standards, which cause manufacturers to create multiple iterations on their products. 3D printing with its quick turnaround time and cost-effective production, helps in faster development of new standardised medical equipment. The on-demand supply capability brings equivalence in demand and supply. Its optimised production capability ensures that sudden demand of a new solution in a remote location is easily met, thanks to its intrinsic digital manufacturing approach. AM is not here to replace conventional manufacturing, but rather to support the traditional supply chain to be immune to disruption. And for the medical space, this is key to safeguard people’s health in any part of the globe. AM is redefining healthcare, for a more prepared post-COVID world.
Source: ET Health World