Finland taps potential of 3D printing
Finland is forging ahead with 3D printing technology in the medical, dental and manufacturing fields.
From hospitals using titanium implants for surgery to companies producing high end products like jewellery, 3D printing has seen a swift uptake in recent years.
Aalto University in Helsinki uses titanium to produce implants for patients suffering from head injuries or other skull related problems.
“The process allows an exact replica of the implant before the patient undergoes surgery and does not require further changes during surgery,” says the university’s research director Jukka Tuomi, who is also president of Finnish Rapid Prototyping Association (FIRPA).
Aalto University is participating in the EU project ArtiVasc to create artificial skin using 3D printing technology. It is mainly intended to replace animal tests in the medical industries though it also has the potential to be used for treatment
Research is also focusing on biomanufacturing and the combination of different kinds of biomaterials in 3D printing.
Speed and precision
Some of the earliest published results on fracture patients have come out of Helsinki University Hospital with researchers imaging and then examining patients virtually on the computer, designing patient-specific plates, manufacturing them and finally implanting the plates into patients.
For Risto Kontio, maxillofacial surgeon and vice chair of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Helsinki University Hospital, the technology offers numerous advantages and huge potential.
“Through the manufacture of patient-specific plates and screws, 3D printing makes surgical operations much quicker and more precise,” he says.
At Helsinki University Hospital, 3D printing applications in surgery already shave hours off operations and is invaluable when it comes to quality assessment.
“Few companies able to handle this whole process from radiological data to implant manufacturing,” says Kontio. “We are one of only a few centres in the world able to do this.”
Kontio says the next bit challenge is tissue engineering:
“By combining 3D printing, virtual modeling with stem cells and tissue engineering, the idea would be to produce part of organs or anatomical parts of human beings.”
Jewel in the crown
Globally, 3D printing is estimated to be a three billion dollar business. Many universities and research groups in Finland are investing in the technology while Finnish companies are integrating conventional manufacturing processes and new 3D printing possibilities. Kalevala jewellery company, for example, applies 3D printing in its products and processes.
In dentistry, 3D printing is already an integral part of and frequently used to make dental implants, crowns and bridges. Finnish dental equipment maker Planmeca provides specialists around the world with detailed multicolour 3D physical models for pre-operative planning.
Text: Vincent Landon
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