There has been a flurry of articles in the news recently about using 3D printing technology to spew out organs and tissues for purposes of replacement or repair. This all sounds like a consequence of the digital age where the boundary between the virtual and the real is increasingly blurred.
But at surgery, we still need a real device to be implanted. A 3D printer can use inkjets or nozzles to spew out a material in layers, and basically sculpt it.
Robotic technology can use a motorized router type device to carve into dense materials and make complex 3D forms out of metal or plastic.
So in a sense, design on the computer can already be converted into real shapes or models. Imagine designing a cartilage implant that perfectly fit into the space to be reconstructed! Issues develop when we reconsider reality. How long does it take? can it be done in advance? And of course, who will pay for this and can you prove it is “better”.
I remember the days when total hip replacements came in 3 sizes and most everyone was a “medium’. Custom made does NOT mean better success, this is NOT a Savile Row suit. In fact, quality control is far better in many consumer items than it ever was in the old bespoke days; would a hand made automobile be more or less reliable?
So my take on this, as with certain kinds of “robotic” surgery, is that 3D printing for cartilage repair may be a cool science project but is most likely not a product