Oct 04, 2013

    3-D printing catching on in health-care sector

    MORE affordable machines, better reliability and greater ease of use have made 3-D printing technology a reality for many companies worldwide. And health care is one area that has shown interest in it, including in Singapore.

    Yesterday, T32 Dental Centre, located at Camden Medical Centre, announced that it bought a US$110,000 (S$137,000) 3-D printer from Stratasys, a company headquartered in the United States and Israel.

    With the machine, waiting time for patients undergoing a dental implant can be cut from up to three weeks to a day.

    This is because the patient-customised surgical guide used in the procedure can be made at the dental centre with the 3-D printer, instead of ordering it from abroad.

    The plastic guide made by the printer is based on a scanned 3-D image of the patient's mouth cavity. Generally, 3-D printing works by repeatedly jetting a fine layer of material, one over the other, until a 3-D object is created.

    Dr Wong Keng Mun, T32's managing director, said the centre did not get a 3-D printer when it started six years ago as the technology was still not mature enough and costs were high.

    Associate Professor Ian Gibson of the National University of Singapore's Engineering Design and Innovation Centre said the price of 3-D printers now can be half the price of those from five years ago.

    Prof Gibson - who was the programme chairman for the two-day Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo that ended on Wednesday - said 3-D printing is relevant for dentistry.

    One reason is that the technology can manufacture metal devices often used in dentistry.

    Dr Wilson Goh, managing director of the GPA Dental Group, said the group had been looking at 3-D printing and foresees its use in the future.

    For one thing, he is looking into creating pre-surgical models to help surgeons visualise a complicated operation.

    The Health Ministry said it supports the advancement of innovative technologies, such as the use of 3-D printing in dentistry, in helping to achieve improved patient outcomes.