3-D printing incorporates developments in materials science that are applying disciplines such as nanotechnology, chemistry, and biomaterials to develop new types of materials for production. For example, engineers have developed a rigid medical rapid prototyping material called MED610, a biocompatible photopolymer produced through a 3-D printing process called PolyJet. The material is colorless and transparent with high dimensional stability, with properties making it ideal for applications that require prolonged skin contact for over 30 days or short-term mucosal-membrane contact of up to 24 hours.
Engineers are working to expand the range of biomaterials that can be incorporated into 3-D printing. The current range of available materials includes polymers, hydrogels, ceramics, composites, cells and extracellular matrices.
Robotics is helping medical manufacturing catch up to other areas of manufacturing. Traditionally, due to strict regulatory requirements, medical manufacturers have not been able to develop products as rapidly as consumer manufacturers. Improvements in manufacturing robots are helping to close this gap. For instance, Fanuc’s M-1iA robot is nimble enough to handle assembly processes as small as 10 or 20 micrometers, with a repeatability within .02 millimeters. Robots like this have enabled manufacturers to speed up processes that are hard to handle with manual or traditional hard automation processes.
Manufacturers are also building robots for medical use. Medical robots are assisting with everything from pharmacy automation to surgery. Demand for medical robots will grow from $4.2 billion in 2015 to $11.4 billion in 2020.