Jan 10, 2017 | By Tess

The use of 3D printing in space has presented a number of breakthroughs for astronauts and space agencies. For instance, the 3D printer aboard the ISS has been used to make useful tools for the astronauts, and has the potential to create replacement parts; satellites and exploring devices are also being 3D printed; and current research is exploring how the technology could help to make habitats and colonies in space when the time comes. One application, which may seem like the most obvious one, has not been spoken about as much, at least until now.

Toronto-based medical 3D printing company 3D4MD has put forward an innovative plan that will allow astronauts to 3D print medical supplies on the fly, rather than wait for resupply missions to come through. The concept, which will allow for the in-space manufacturing of things like splints, or surgical tools, will be tested aboard the ISS this month.

Founded in 2011 by doctor Julielynn Wong, MD43D has been a force within the medical 3D printing field, using the technology to develop and manufacture affordable medical supplies that have been deployed to places in need. Space, which could be the most remote place of all, will soon benefit from the company’s innovative devices and technologies.

Wong reports that she connected with doctors from NASA soon after Made in Space launched its first 3D printer to the ISS, and began work on medical tools that could be 3D printed within a spacecraft. As part of the research, she was even invited to 3D print tools at The Mars Desert Research Station, the Mars simulation habitat. Now, after much hard work, 3D4MD will soon see the fruits of its labor. As Wong told a Canadian news source, “Now, this month, we’ll be making medical history by 3D printing the first medical tools in space.”

To create medical tools such as custom-fitted finger splints, Wong said that her company could use laser scans and measurements taken from the space suit fitting process to design the splint down on Earth. With the 3D model for the splint ready, they could then have the 3D file sent directly to the ISS for printing. In addition to small tools like finger splints, 3D4MD has also unveiled a useful 3-in-1 dental tool that could assist in replacing a filling, and a sensory evaluation tool that could help to determine the condition of an astronaut in case of injury.

Evidently, 3D4MD’s space-friendly medical tools could be a huge boon for astronauts in orbit, as they would no longer have to wait for specific medical tools to be shipped into space and could have custom tools made on the spot. While immeasurably useful in space, 3D4MD’s approach could also be revolutionary here on Earth as well, especially in remote areas of the world with little access to professional medical facilities.

As Wong explains, smartphones operated by healthcare workers in small, remote communities could 3D scan patients, and custom medical supplies could then be printed on solar-powered 3D printers. The whole process could make simple but much needed medical tools more accessible than ever. To give people access to as many medical tools as possible, 3D4MD is also working on setting up a digital library full of crowdsourced 3D printable files for diverse medical tools.

To learn more about 3D4MD’s mandate, check out the video below:



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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