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3D Printing: How Cutting-Edge Technology Is Shaping the Future of the Biotech and Technology Industries

Posted by Alec Goldfield on Tue, Dec 01, 2015

iStock_000060658248_SmallYou may have heard a lot about 3D printing lately. The 3D printing market grew at more than 35% in 2014 to surpass $4 billion. Furthermore, Gartner Research lists 3D printing materials as a top technology trend for 2016, with expectations of 64% growth for enterprise 3D printer shipments through 2019.

The use of 3D printing in the biotech industry has grown especially fast due to its ability to significantly improve the efficacy and lower the cost of medical procedures. 3D printing is already being widely used to create prosthetics, dental products and biomedical devices. 3D printing is well-suited for biomedical devices because these devices are often very complex and must be customized for each patient. Devices produced by leveraging 3D printing also tend to be much cheaper than those fashioned from traditional manufacturing because 3D printing eliminates the manual and secondary processes required. The global market for 3D printing in the medical space is expected to reach close to $1 billion by 2020 as the technology continues to mature and become more flexible and easier to use.

Materials

A large portion of the research and development in the 3D printing of biomedical devices has centered on the use of new materials and improving printers so that more materials are compatible. Unlike traditional manufacturing, the materials used in biomedical devices must be biocompatible as well as compatible with 3D printers. Currently, more than 1,200 materials can be used in 3D printers, many of which can live in the body for long periods of time with no risk of contamination. One recent development introduced stronger lasers in 3D printers to allow the use of high-strength plastics, which are better suited for orthopedic implants than commonly used steel.

The University of Michigan is leading the charge with the development of new 3D printers and materials for 3D printing. Using a new direct laser sintering printer created by the company EOS, researchers at the University of Michigan were able to use a biopolymer called polycaprolactone (PCL) to create a reabsorbable trachea splint that fixed a collapsed bronchus that was preventing a baby from breathing. The splint was developed using proprietary software and a modeling program that scanned the baby and created the device so it was an exact match to the baby’s anatomy. Being able to create highly complex, customized devices quickly and affordably in a life-threatening situation has the ability to save countless lives in the future.

Bioprinting

Bioprinting, the process of creating artificial tissue and organs from 3D printers, represents possibly the most significant advance in the biomedical industry from 3D printing. Bioprinting is especially difficult because, unlike plastics, living cells must be incubated in the environment into which they will be transplanted. A San Diego-based biotech firm called Organovo has been using bioprinting to create 3D printed tissue that can be used for drug discovery testing. The hope is that a similar process can be used to create body parts like ears, heart valves and kidneys that are cell friendly. Bioprinting is also being developed for use in treating burn victims. Skin can be grown from healthy cells and then bioprinted for use in skin grafts that can stimulate the growth of human tissue.

Impact on Sales Process Across Industries

Shifting Customers’ Demands

The continued growth in the use of 3D printing in both the medical space and other industries will result in shifting customer demands. Because 3D printing allows for highly customized products that can be made cheaply, customers will no longer be satisfied with one-size-fits-all manufacturing process that has been the norm. Companies will need to adjust to these growing expectations in order to stay competitive in the market. Similarly to the clothing industry that has seen increased price competition between fashion-forward manufacturers, the manufacturing industry will see increasing competition to create high-quality, inexpensive goods from a range of materials due to 3D printing.

Expanding Ecosystem

The use of 3D printing has expanded and further complicated the ecosystem across many industries. In biotech, rather than hospitals and patients buying medical devices from biotech companies, technology companies are now creating 3D printers that are being used to produce medical devices on an ad hoc basis. Therefore, hospitals can buy 3D printers themselves to create the devices, or medical device companies can buy the printers to serve as middlemen in the ecosystem. Material suppliers are also increasingly important as they supply a growing number of materials to be used in the printers.

Medical device companies need to evaluate this new ecosystem and consider how to best take advantage. Creating partnerships with the technology companies that are developing the printers and the material suppliers will be key to staying successful in this increasingly complex market. The same can be said for hardware sellers and manufacturers, which will be under increased pressure to create less expensive, customized products. 3D printers will be able to fully create devices as complicated as smartphones, computer chips and tablets. Therefore, it would be prudent for these hardware producers to begin partnering with 3D printing companies and material suppliers or investing in their own 3D printing technology so that they can be prepared for the rapidly changing manufacturing landscape and customer demands.  

New Sales Process

Manufacturers will need to understand how shifting customer demands and an expanded ecosystem impact their sales process. With the technological advances of 3D printing, suppliers have an opportunity to adapt their sales processes in order to capture growth in sales and profits. Given the large upfront capital investment required with 3D printing, suppliers will need to ensure they appropriately convey the value proposition and business case for their devices, and may even require new collaborative consumption pricing models (e.g., as employed by Uber, Airbnb, software as a service and others) that allow consumers to only pay for what they need. Companies like Shapeways have already begun taking advantage of these new selling models, allowing customers to upload their own 3D designs to its website before manufacturing and shipping these custom goods back to the customers. Currently, customers are creating custom products including phone cases and jewelry, but expect them to be able to customize far more complicated goods in the future, including smart watches, phones and tablets. The first companies to take advantage of this technology stand to differentiate themselves from the rest of the market and increase their revenue.


About the Author

Alec Goldfield is a Business Consultant in the High Tech Practice at ZS in the San Mateo office. He has 4 years of experience in consulting at ZS focusing on go-to-market strategy, sales efficiency, and assessing marketing effectiveness through both quantitative and qualitative market research.

Prior to ZS, Alec worked at Galvanize Ventures in San Francisco researching, assessing, and sourcing deals for high-tech companies seeking seed and series A funding. Alec also worked at McAfee in marketing operations delivering marketing dashboards that drove analytics around pipelines, cost per lead, and customer satisfaction.

Alec holds an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and a BA in Psychology with a concentration in Economics from Amherst College.


References

www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3143521

www.3dprint.com/99484/solar-powered-3d-printers   

www.deskeng.com/de/materials-3d-printings-medical-miracle

www.asme.org/engineering-topics/articles/bioengineering/3d-printing-blooms-in-biomedical

www.shapeways.com

Topics: technology, biotech, Alec Goldfield, 3D Printing

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AUTHORS
Brandon_Mills-10924_headshot_small
Brandon Mills
Manager,
ZS Associates
Jason_Bell_11099_headshot.jpg
Jason Bell
Associate Principal,
ZS Associates
John_DeSarbo_thumbnail
John DeSarbo
Principal,
ZS Associates
Kyle_Heller_thumbnail-1
Kyle Heller
Associate Principal,
ZS Associates
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