While not yet as impressive as the Star Trek replicators that could produce everything you could imagine, 3-D printers are making waves for their ability to produce an ever increasing range of products. Beginning with simple shapes or trinkets, each iteration of 3-D printers has led to more and more complex abilities, and the results are making waves in virtually every industry (even NASA is thinking of producing rocket parts using these printers).
 
Despite the inevitable dark side of every new technology, the potential upside of 3-D printing in the medical field is enormous. However, we?re obviously still in the very early days of 3-D printed medical devices. A lot of the headlines you?ll see are still just one-off cases (like the lung splint in this article, or the custom jaw implant they reference), or they?re purely experimental/academic pursuits (e.g., bionic ears or mini livers).
 
That said, 3-D printers are becoming commonplace for certain applications in the dental implant space (as per our CAD/CAM system report), the Mayo Clinic has begun performing hip replacement surgeries with 3-D printed implants, MAKO recently made a not-insignificant investment in Pipeline Orthopedics (a company specializing in the printing of porous titanium implants), and the FDA just last week approved a 3-D printed cranial bone void filler (both the product and manufacturing process).  
 
A key advantage for medical device manufacturers is the ability of 3-D printers to rapidly mock up prototypes. Companies can quickly go from the design phase to a test product to even clinical trials, saving time and costs.

With access to these printers medical device entrepreneurs have another tool box to come up with the next generation of life-saving and enabling devices.

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