Women in 3D Printing’s mission is to increase the visibility of women in the Additive Manufacturing industry and encourage more women to use 3D Printing technologies. We have been doing so by highlighting female leaders and innovators on our platform since 2014. To provide even more insights on female experts in the Additive Manufacturing Industry, we are inviting women to contribute to this series by sharing their business and tech expertise through guest blog posts to be published as Industry Insiders series.

We are very excited to launch our new series “Industry Insiders” with Jenny Chen, on healthcare and the impact of 3D Printing. 

Jenny Chen is the founder of 3DHEALS, an organization focusing on building collaborations in Healthcare 3D Printing and bioprinting through events, educational programs, and online media.

Industry Insider Jenny Chen on Healthcare 3D Printing

What is Healthcare 3D Printing?

Healthcare 3D Printing includes any healthcare application that employs 3D printing (additive manufacture) technology. Our definition includes bioprinting.

Terry Wohlers, the leading 3D Printing industry analyst, estimated in the 2015 Wohlers Report that the additive manufacturing industry, consisting of all Additive Manufacturing products and services worldwide, grew 25.9% YOY to $5.165 billion in 2015. The report also estimated 13% of the market to be in healthcare, which puts the size of the healthcare 3D market at about $671M. The numbers may seem large, but if 3D printing industry continues to only grow at a pace of about 20% per year, it will remain as an insignificant fraction of the trillion-dollar manufacture industry for decades to come. Therefore, healthcare 3D printing market, like 3D printing market, is in its infancy.

Today’s Limitations

  1. Cost – The cost of implementing 3D Printing in many healthcare sectors is still prohibitive, especially because there is no well-defined payment structure for the work done in 3D Printing. Decreased overhead (both software, hardware, and materials) will create more room for creative user cases that could eventually be reimbursable procedures, which will increase demand for 3D Printing hardware, software, and materials in the long run. On the other hand, it is notable that in healthcare, the absolute price is often not the most important factor. For example, if a 3D printed hip implant costs 1,000 more but lasts 5 years longer than the traditionally made implant, I think the cost is justified.
  2. Software – 3 years ago, segmenting a 3D Printed heart model reportedly cost radiologists up to 10 hours. Many still must use less reliable open source software (not made specifically for healthcare use) to compliment missing (or expensive) components of the purchased commercial software. However, 3D printing software has made significant improvements over the last three years both in price, capability, and UI/UX. This is a result of increased investment from software companies in the healthcare vertical. I expect to see more one-push solutions for both existing and upcoming software in healthcare.
  3. Material – We don’t have enough selections in biocompatible materials. This is partly due to limited user case and toxicology profiles on many existing 3D Printing materials. Both require time and money. Dr. Steven Pollack (senior research scientist at Carbon 3D) recently wrote a very nice article on the subject. There will be a lot of growth in this area.
  4. Applications – There is an increasing number of new 3D Printing applications in healthcare, which is evident based on a simple literature search on PubMed. However, many of these applications are limited to small populations or one-off cases. Both healthcare and 3D Printing industries need to invest more to find the best intersecting applications. This is an area worthy of active monitoring and one important reason behind the creation of 3DHEALS2017.
  5. Education – Lack of application is directly due to insufficient education. This applies to both the engineering/industry side and the healthcare provider side. However, we are seeing both increased effort in creating educational opportunities and effort in learning. For example, attendance in 3D Printing sessions during RSNA (Radiological Society of North America) has increased exponentially over the last 4 years. 3DHEALS is also founded based on the awareness of the need for knowledge.

What’s coming up in Healthcare 3D Printing

  1. More user-friendly 3D printing product specifically designed for healthcare professionals and healthcare system. This product includes 3D Printing digital workflow that is out-of-box ready to use.
  2. More clarifying guidelines on 3D printed medical device from Food & Drink Administration.
  3. Leadership in 3D Printing R&D in medical device by industrial giants will encourage more entrepreneurial pursuits in the area, accelerating overall industry innovation rate.
  4. New business models and delivery systems of 3D printing services and products will emerge. For example, hospitals may become primary manufacturers of on-demand devices; or, medical devices company “ship” its product via the internet and 3D Printing service bureau. Along with these new business models, questions related to liability and IP must be answered.
  5. M&A deals will increase because of increasing available innovations.

I am looking forward to groundbreaking innovations. Without accelerated innovations and growth, 3D printing will remain a tiny single digit percentage of the total manufacture industry even at an average 20-30% annual growth rate. This unpredictable future path of an emerging technology like 3D Printing is probably its most exciting aspect, and probably why I am so fascinated by it.

Regarding how big it can become, the sky is the limit. I think the most important thing to remember is that 3D Printing is a brand-new tool for humanity, powered by our increasing computing power. So its final destination, like other computer powered technologies, are not constrained by existing market demand but by our imagination. That is, in addition to improving existing manufacture processes and design, 3D Printing will enable us to create solutions that were not possible before, and the market for that still-to-be-invented technology is unknown but conceivably infinite.

More information about 3HEALS is available here. You can also [re]discover Jenny Chen’s interview for Women in 3D Printing here

This is a guest post in our series Industry Insiders. if you’d like to participate in this series then contact us for more information.

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