Fraunhofer developing 3D-printing technologies for medical applications
DRESDEN, Germany: Much has been made of the transformative potential of additive manufacturing in the medical field, and a project by the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft hopes to pair new 3D-printing technologies with tangible applications in the medical sector. Scientists in Germany and Poland are collaborating on a series of pilot projects in selected medical fields, including dentistry.
The application-oriented research organisation announced in June that a German–Polish Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft High-Performance Center was engaged in the project Additive Technologies for Medicine and Health (ATeM). The first demonstrations of the individual projects are expected by the third quarter of this year.
In the dental field, Fraunhofer scientists are investigating new areas of application for the 3D printing of dental prosthetics.
“There is great potential in the use of innovative materials and the integration of additional functionalities in dental prostheses to increase the wearing comfort for the patient,” Prof. Frank Brückner, technology field manager for additive manufacturing and printing at the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS, based in Dresden, commented in a press release.
The organisation mentioned some of the materials and applications that are being investigated in the dental field, stating that advancements in additive manufacturing could allow for faster treatment and significantly more complex dental implants to be printed immediately after the oral cavity is scanned using an intra-oral scanner. “Additive processes could also be used, for example, to combine metal and plastic materials for improved aesthetics,” Fraunhofer IWS said.
The institute pointed to orthodontics, stating that additive manufacturing could enable treatment time to be reduced and brackets to be individualised for patients. The production of dental prostheses could also be made faster and more efficient, both in terms of treatment costs and resources, by using additive manufacturing technologies, it said.
“Additive technologies offer interesting opportunities, particularly for manufacturers in the medical technology sector,” Fraunhofer IWS explained. It commented that 3D printing allows individual solutions to be tailored to the patient and that additive technologies could help to integrate new and improved properties and functionalities into components. “This is usually not only more cost-effective than conventional processes but also allows to provide novel therapies and treatment approaches,” it added.
“There is great potential in the use of innovative materials and the integration of additional functionalities in dental prostheses”
– Prof. Frank Brückner, Fraunhofer IWS
Dentists are showing high interest in intra-oral scanners and 3D printing for dental applications, and both of these fields are expected to show double-digit growth in the next five years. Dr Kamran Zamanian, a market researcher in specialist dental applications and founding partner of iData Research, commented in June that the technologies are increasingly attractive to dentists owing not only to the seamless workflows that they offer in the practice but also to their ability to better control the risk of infection. In an editorial published by Dental Tribune International, Zamanian said that the COVID-19 pandemic had already influenced the market for dental 3D-printing technologies. “[Sales] of 3D printers are increasing rapidly now that the pandemic is getting closer to being stabilised. In addition, digital technologies, such as 3D printers and intra-oral scanners, offer better control of contamination risk, and this has already started to drive sales and will continue to do so in the near future,” he wrote.
The ATeM High-Performance Center was founded in 2021 and aims to incorporate additive manufacturing as an established tool in the field of medical technology.
The project is a collaboration between the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS in Dresden, the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU in Chemnitz in Germany, and the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and the Center for Advanced Manufacturing Technologies at Wroclaw University of Science and Technology in Wroclaw in Poland.