Human clavicle printed in 3D

In April, the Industrial Design Engineering (IDE) department used a Polyjetting 3D printer to print a human clavicle.
This manufactured human clavicle is now in Erasmus MC, Rotterdam where trauma surgeon Professor Verhofstadt will use it to prepare for surgery.

This clavicle is particularly interesting thanks to the printer it was made with. The first of its kind in the Netherlands, the Connex3 can print using three different materials simultaneously which it does using a technique called Polyjetting. Dr. Jouke Verlinden from the IDE department who helped print the human clavicle explained this process as essentially like inkjet printing technology, except instead of mixing inks, “you can blend different materials by using different pin heads for different materials.”

While regular 3D printing already offered a number of possibilities in medicine, the ability to mix materials has greatly improved the quality of parts produced. They are not only more realistic thanks to this Polyjetting technique, but they have a much higher resolution than those from a regular 3D printer. This means that shape and curvature of printed parts are far more accurate. Currently Dr. Verlinden is part of the research at TU Delft looking into 3D printing and the human head, particularly the brain and ears, using the multi-material printing to “visualise different aspects of the head, brains and nervous system”.

At the moment, 3D printing in medicine is used primarily for diagnostics, instruction, education and preparation as with the clavicle printed in Delft. Looking to the future of this printing technique, Dr. Verlinden spoke about the possibility of using manufactured parts for therapy, or even for prosthetics, using CT scans and MRIs to create parts which fit harmoniously with the human body.

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