To a mechanical engineer, the human body is filled with perplexing shapes. Replac- ing its parts, or designing tools to operate on it, is a challenge. Te body’s uneven, organic shapes are difficult to replicate with standard machine tools, which are more accustomed to cutting straight lines or drilling round holes. But additive manufac- turing, which gives designers the freedom to create complex, organic shapes, seems a natural fit. As additive manufacturers develop improved processes with a wider choice of materials, applications in medical manufacturing are growing.
Surgery Leads the Way Producing exact 3D models of a patient’s body, for surgeons to use in planning,
are just one of the applications where additive is making headway, according to Terry Wohlers of Wohlers Associates (Fort Collins, CO), an independent consulting firm specializing in additive manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing is charting new ground in the medical field, where it offers design freedom, relatively low costs and short, even custom production runs.
ExOne provides additive manufacturing through binder-jet technology that is used to produce prosthetic fingers.
Medical professionals convert CT or MRI scan data from the patient into physi-
cal models of the patient on whom they are going to operate. “Tey actually sterilize those parts and take them into the operating room,” he said. Among the applications: craniofacial or maxillofacial reconstruction, which repairs birth defects or the conse-