Marta Sambaer January 24, 2018

Medical 3D Printing is increasingly showing its value in today's healthcare through the contributions it brings. 3D technology used to reconstruct patients' anatomies based on medical images creates unforeseen possibilities that can pave the way towards better patient-specific solutions.

What is 3D Printing? How does it work, how does it apply to medicine? Which technologies are the most suitable for healthcare applications? How can it be integrated in a workflow? What's the investment cost?

Do you want to know? Watch our THINK Radiology webinars. Together with our customers, we hosted a series on Medical 3D Printing and radiology to give you answers. 

In this webinar, Edward Quigley, MD, PhD, talks about the experience his team acquired while starting with 3D Printing in their practice. He goes into depth about types of 3D printers, printing technologies, clinical examples and combining them in their workflow.

Fractured Calcaneus 3D model – FDM / Fused Deposition Modelling 3D printing Technology
Fractured Calcaneus 3D model – FDM / Fused Deposition Modelling 3D printing Technology

"From virtualization to 3D actualization"

Dr. Quigley begins by explaining the core of 3D printing in healthcare as a subset of Additive Manufacturing. When applied to medicine, 3D Printing is when medical images from a CT or MRI scan are turned into tangible physical anatomical models. He continues with the history of how STL came about. STL is the basic file format for medical 3D printing software. It's a way of turning volumetric data into a 3D structure. 

The basic method for succeeding with Medical 3D Printing, according to Dr. Quigley is to first acquire quality data using good algorithms. Then you segment it carefully with software and decide on the areas you want to keep and turn into a solid object. This segmentation is a very important part of the process and using dedicated software will produce a more accurate virtual model. Afterwards the data is processed into a series of triangles that will form a structure. The model of triangles is then converted into a pathway, or encoding, for the printer to make the final 3D print. Finally, there's the quality control once the model is printed. You can create virtual phantom models, or download phantom models with which you can compare and assess your own model, says Dr. Quigley.

What types of 3D printing techniques are there?

Dr. Quigley talks about 3D printers, the four different types of additive manufacturing techniques and how they developed.

First there's the VAT Polymerization process including Stereolithography (SLA), Digital Light Processing (DLP) and PolyJet/Inkjet. Another technique is Powder Bed Fusion or Solidification. Then there's the entry-level type known as Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)/Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), and finally there's the layered object manufacturing technique. 

Dr. Quigley continues with the costs of entry and the appropriate materials used for each, the benefits and pitfalls of each, and tips on how to achieve good results. The choice of technique depends on the needs of the user.

What do you use anatomical models for?

Dr. Quigley begins by highlighting educational models when talking about the many medical applications of anatomical models. You can also do research design, simulations such as vascular flow models, cardiac structures, pulmonary models, and use it for trauma to observe bone structures, he adds.

"You can demonstrate very complex anatomy, you can do exquisite resident fellow training; even a failed model will allow you to teach on the anatomy of the structure,"
says Dr. Quigley.

But Medical 3D Printing goes far beyond. For example, it allows you to create custom 3d printed medical implants and guides, and orthopedic hardware. "There's huge potential for patient-centered imaging," says Dr. Quigley.


What else can you learn from this webinar?

A spinal model for educational purposes, a skull model that includes vessels which can be used to better communicate with the patient and explain the pathology and diagnosis of fibrous dysplasia, are only some examples of what Dr. Quigley has made with his team. He shows us multi-color prints with different materials to display the anatomy more precisely; masks, models of tumors… and so much more. He also shares his own practical tips on how to construct bigger models when limited with a smaller printer, and tells us the most valuable lessons his team learned when printing a model.

3D printing tips for setting up your own lab

"Establish a network of collaboration," say Dr. Quigley. It's important to use all resources at hand, online courses and mentorship. In every failure there's a positive side to learn from that will help you solve the next problem, he continues. "Even a failed print can be used for anatomic purposes."

Set your goals, review the printing technologies, and learn the 3D printing process. You may not need your own printer in the beginning, so look at outsourcing options that will offer you a wider choice in materials.

"It's less about the printer, it's more about the people involved and the software you use," concludes Dr. Quigley. 

Now what?

As a radiologist, you can see all the opportunities that 3D Printing can bring by creating anatomical models and encouraging interaction with several departments in your hospital. Watch our Radiology Think webinar series and see for yourself!

3D skull model – SLA 3D Printing technology
3D skull model – SLA 3D Printing technology

This webinar may help you to find answers to any questions you might still have. What printer is right for you? What setup would best fit your needs? What do your consultants want? What do you want to achieve?  Listen to more of Dr. Quigley's detailed and insightful presentation on how to begin with 3D Printing in your practice by watching his webinar.