Sep 19th 2018

3D Printing Advances are Changing Medicine and Military Safety

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3D–printed objects are no longer a novelty and are paving the way for incredible scientific innovation. For example, a large 3D–printed engine part was successfully tested and could be used in the next generation SLS rocket that will send humans to the moon and Mars, NASA reported.

3D printing advances are also improving medical treatments and military technology.

3D Printing Advances in Medicine

The road to recovery for any individual with deep skin wounds, which affect all three layers of the skin, can be as painful and traumatic as the incident itself.

Researchers at the University of Toronto have developed a handheld 3D printer filled with “bio ink” — essentially an ink cartridge containing biological materials. The bio ink contains strips of biomaterial that include the proteins collagen and fibrin, which are used to promote wound healing.

As noted by the university, there are two types of skin grafts: a full thickness skin graft and a split thickness skin graft. Full thickness skin grafts are used for smaller areas, including the hands and face, since the grafts blend well with a person’s skin. Split thickness skin grafts, on the other hand, are used to treat large areas and are typically thinner, which can lead to shrinkage and gaps in skin coverage. A deep wound that damages the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis requires a split thickness skin graft.

Split thickness skin grafts require large amounts of tissue, but 3D printers can eliminate this need. The University of Toronto’s portable 3D printer takes just two minutes to set the tissue on the individual. This scientific innovation can increase skin graft coverage area and improve recovery times for patients.

Another research team from Spain is also working on a 3D bioprinter: it can take three weeks to cover a large wound, but this 3D bioprinter would significantly reduce the treatment time, according to research published in the journal Biofabrication.

3D Printing Advances for Military Safety

Military personnel entering a dangerous situation may not have time to stop and check a piece of equipment to determine if the area is free from chemical or biological agents. However, a temporary tattoo loaded with electronic sensors printed on their hand can quickly alert them to any danger.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a portable 3D printer that is small enough to fit in a person’s hand or inside a backpack. The printer can track its place on an individual’s skin and print a functional tattoo that is equipped with sensors. It can also print ink to create different chemical sensors for any situation, according to the university. Additionally, the 3D printer can print a portable charging station for electronic equipment and can produce solar cells on skin, both of which can be used to charge devices out in the field.

The Future of 3D Printing

3D printing advances are helping to shape the future of wound care and military safety. Artificial organs may even be in our future. As printers get even faster and more advanced, there isn’t an area of life that won’t be affected by this scientific innovation.

Northrop Grumman is committed to helping the warfighter and bringing our men and women in uniform home safely.  Are you interested in joining the effort? Check out Northrop Grumman’s career page.

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