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Published on April 7, 2017

3D Printing for Orthopedics


One of the most interesting application areas for 3D printing is in medicine. One of the areas we’ve looked at previously is in using 3D printing for medical and anatomical models. 3D printing also has many applications in other areas of medicine such as orthopedics. In orthopedics tens of thousands of 3D Printed surgical guides, acetabular cups and other orthopedic implants are 3D printed and used in patients each year. By making low volume or unique implants in titanium or plastics 3D printing can produce better patient outcomes at lower cost for patients and health systems. Many orthopedics companies are looking into certifying many more implants and medical devices at the moment and this is a vibrant area in 3D printing at the moment.

Patient Specific Surgical Guides

Perhaps as many as a 150,000 patient specific surgical guides have been used in patients so far. These are being used in oral surgery and in orthopedic surgery. These guides are made on the basis of 3D scans from CT or MRI information. Unique polymer surgical guides are then 3D printed and placed in patients. These guides tell the surgeon where to cut and are removed after the procedure. In patient specific medicine like this 3D printing has the advantage of cost effectively being able to make unique geometries.

Acetabular Cups

Hip cups, 3D printed in titanium, are used for thousands of procedures each year. These cups are significantly less expensive than the non-3D printed ones that they are replacing in hospitals worldwide. The surface texture of these titanium cups is optimized so that bone growth is promoted. The ability to change and optimize surface texture is a major advantage of 3D printing processes. In the future textures may even be adapted to particular cases or types of patients.

Hip replacement or prosthetics 

Whereas initially only the acetabular cups were 3D printed now more surgeons are looking at hip prosthetics or partial hip replacement using 3D printing. With cancers or severe trauma sufferers often have unique hip problems that need unique solutions. In such cases 3D printing’s ability to quickly go from a scan to a part also is an asset.



Knee Replacement

Due to aging populations and the ability to use the same equipment and manufacturing procedures 3D printing is also making inroads in knee replacement and in other small joint orthopedics.

Spinal implants

A relatively new field is 3D printed spinal implants. Several spinal implant procedures and implants have recently been given approval and more are on the way. Relatively small implants are a key area for growth in 3D printing and the path forward to many more approvals for other orthopedic devices and procedures seems wide open. Fusion cages, disks and other spinal devices have been commercialized or are being close to being commercialized. Patient specific disk prostheses are a particular area of growth and research.

Below is a PEEK plastic 3D Printed VBR (Vertebral Body Replacement)


Internal Fixation 

A continually expanding area is internal fixation devices which can be custom manufactured for particular fractures or for problems where standard fixation devices will not work. At the moment internal fixation has not been getting as much attention as prosthetics or the other devices but there is scope for growth here as well especially since 3D printing processes are gradually becoming lower in cost.


Unique casts or post operative devices to help patients heal are also possible with 3D printing. This is currently not an area  that gets much attention in the medical community. However, patient outcomes could be improved if their healing processes were accelerated or guided better by unique casts, braces or devices made only for them and only to aid their healing processes. Over the years patient specific scoliosis braces and other such prosthetic devices have been commercialized.