By Omar Ahmed

3D printing has revolutionized the world of biodesign and is an extremely accessible and powerful asset for anyone interested in product development. 3D printing is a particularly useful tool for interventional radiologists attempting to redesign or reimagine catheters, stents, guidewires, coils, and other medical devices routinely used in their practices. Here, we are going to discuss how you can use 3D printing to help construct your novel biomedical devices. 

3D printing is also known as Additive Manufacturing (AM), an umbrella term for the construction of a three-dimensional object from a CAD model by “adding” material together. The two most popular types of 3D printers are fused deposition modeling (FDM) and stereolithography (SLA). FDM 3D printers create objects layer by layer using heated thermoplastics. Thermoplastics are plastic polymers that become molten, moldable materials at high temperatures. When cooled to room temperature, they return to a solid, glass-like state. This process can reoccur infinite times, making thermoplastics mechanically recyclable. SLA 3D printers utilize photopolymerization, a process in which a laser transforms liquid resin into solid plastic. Below you can find a video demonstration for each printer. 

Both types of 3D printers have been refined for commercial use and can be purchased relatively inexpensively. For preliminary prototyping and simple device builds, either FDM or SLA 3D printers are your best bet. For more information on which is right for your specific device, the following article compares and contrasts the strengths and weaknesses of each printer. 

FDM vs. SLA: Compare the Two Most Popular Types of 3D Printers

Below is an article that provides a brief overview into various other forms of 3D printing. 

3D Printing | An Overview of 3D Printing Technologies


    A commonly asked question regarding 3D printing: can I really print anything I want? The answer? No – at least for now. Many of the limitations of 3D printing are due to the current state of the technology itself. Since most printers utilize some variation of a layer-by-layer method, objects that lack a sturdy, solid base or that have a large height-to-width ratio don’t hold together well. Furthermore, objects that are extremely intricate or that have exceedingly small margins require a level of precision that most printers are not yet capable of reaching. For instance, a pediatric cardiac stent is most likely too complex to be successfully constructed using a 3D printer. These limitations are actively being addressed by engineering firms and may become obsolete as the technology continues to advance over the next few years, but consider keeping them in mind.

    For those not interested in purchasing a 3D printer, many companies offer reliable 3D printing services with a quick turn-around time. Some of these companies include Shapeways 3D printing, Xometry, and the UPS store. Searching for 3D printing services in your area will likely yield many results. Many of these companies offer remote services and will print and send your object to you in the mail. 

    3D printing is a fantastic tool for anyone interested in turning their designs into solid, three-dimensional objects. For any further questions, please contact the SIR Biodesign and Innovation Committee. We wish you happy printing!