The potential for 3-D printing to transform medicine are substantial. To cite but a few examples: the technology can be used to make custom implants, “print” virtually any drug, drug delivery devices, and even living tissue. Earlier this year, medical researchers successfully implanted a 3-D printed jaw into an 83-year old woman.
The implications of 3-D printing on manufacturing could be sizeable as well. The technology could be used for rapid prototyping (one of its most common applications at present) but all manner of replacement parts. In September, Business Week announced that the era of retail 3-D printing had begun.
Still, this is a young industry, and the applications of this technology still mostly relate to manufacturing. Pioneers in the field include 3D Systems, Stratasys, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Texas at Austin.
Earlier this month, Stratasys merged with Objet, another large 3-D printing company, making the firm the biggest player in the space. The resulting company, called simply Stratasys, is valued at roughly $3 billion. It is larger than the previous market leader, 3D Systems. After the merger, the company can 3-D print objects from more than 120 materials.
Before the merger, Stratasys had a significant number of products that were used for healthcare-related applications. That was the case for Objet as well, whose product portfolio included technology for healthcare applications such as creating surgical and diagnostic aids, prosthetics and medical products, tissue engineering, as well as prototypes of medical devices.
The product offerings of the new Stratasys will be broken into three basic areas: fused deposit modeling for making fast and inexpensive prototypes; PolyJet, a photopolymer-jetting technology for detailed prototypes requiring a fine surface finish; and Solidscape Drop-on-Demand 3D wax printers for investment casting.