3D printed bones cut modeling costs and time by factor of 10

3D printed bone

3D printed bone, in plastic, from Shapeways. Photo credit: Shapeways.

While 3D printing is most publicly associated with revolutionizing the prototyping and manufacturing process, 3D printers are also being used to save time and money in innovative procedures that don’t get all the press that some of the more mainstream applications get.

One fascinating area of 3D printing innovation is medicine. From dentistry to printing blood vessels and organs, 3D printers are helping to advance healthcare in ways the medical community hadn’t thought of even just a short decade ago.

Today we offer an interesting video from the the United Kingdom, where the BBC published a story on a surgeon in training who is transforming U.K.’s National Health Services’s (NHS) orthopedic department. He has figured out how to save the NHS thousands upon thousands of pounds, while at the same time delivering important surgical bone models to doctors months ahead of time, if they had even before ordered the luxury of a surgical model.

You see, surgical models are not inexpensive. Specialty makers usually charge hundreds to thousands of pounds to create them. In addition, they can take many months to deliver which, of course, affects the quality of care.

This wasn’t good enough Mark Frame of the Netherlands. So he used his technical knowledge of modeling and 3D printers to create a procedure for orthopedic surgeons to obtain surgical models of bone structures for a fraction of the traditional methodology’s cost and delivery time. 3D Ortho Models, the company he created, produces custom 3D printed physical models of patients’ anatomy from standard CT scan data.

For example, a model of a child’s forearm, the ulna and radius bones, cost only £100 including international shipping. Quotes from traditional modelers ranged from £800-£1200. That, plus a delivery time of a week instead of months, will put a three dimensional, life-size orthopedic model into the hands of surgeons and patients much more often. Patients will be able to visualize what the surgeon will be doing, and the surgeon, with model in hand instead of just a view on a 2D display, will have the best chance at a successful operation.

Mark outsources the 3D printing to service provider, Shapeways, so he doesn’t need to invest in a 3D printer himself. But his contribution to the process is in turning the CT scans into files that the Shapeways printers can read. Here’s the process, as described in a recent Shapeways article:

After undertaking a bit of self-assigned internet research, Frame sorted out a method to create renders of a patient’s fractured forearm using CT scans processed via the open source OsiriX software. These were then passed through a separate MeshLab application to tidy up any artifacting, and finally exported in 3D-compatible .stl format. The resulting files were sent to Shapeways for printing, with the white plastic bone copies…

The power of genius found in this place and that, around the world, just a file upload away from a 3D printer at services like Shapeways — it’s innovation at the fingertips of everyone and anyone. What an phenomenal and unknown world we are entering.

Original source of video: BBC

  • http://www.shapeways.com Duann Scott

    Great story,

    Check out his new site http://www.3d-ortho-model.com/

    • https://3dprinter.net Mark Fleming

      That’s the URL I have in the hyperlink in the article, but people could have missed it. Thanks for making it more clear, Duann.

  • Andrew Bernhardson, MD


    I contacted you previously regarding modeling and a shoulder project I was working on. Could you please email me at my provided email address and get an estimate. I’ve got the Osirix files and was looking for 3 models to be made.