Understanding 3D Scanners in Medical Applications
by Christian on Sep 14, 2023
3D scanners in medical applications have revolutionised the way professionals gather accurate and detailed information in the healthcare industry. While 3D scanning technology has gained popularity across various industries such as engineering and automotive manufacturing, it is in the medical industry where the unique benefits of 3D scanners truly shine.
This disruptive technology allows doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to create high-accuracy 3D models of patients’ bodies in minutes. Armed with this dimensional data, they can produce perfectly fitting prosthetics, customised medical appliances, and more.
This article explains how 3D scanners in medical application benefit the healthcare industry and help doctors provide faster, cheaper, and better care.
What is 3D Scanning?
The term 3D scanning covers various technologies used to digitise physical objects in three dimensions. The methods may vary, but the result is the same — they turn items or human bodies into detailed 3D and CAD models.
Some of the most common 3D scanning methods include:
- Structured Light: Structured light 3D scanners — like Peel3.CAD — project a pre-programmed white or blue light pattern onto the scanned object. The scanner’s sensors capture the reflected light and calculate the object’s three-dimensional shape.
- Laser Scanning: Laser scanners, such as Creaform HandySCAN, function much like structured light devices, but they use a series of laser beams instead of light patterns. The accuracy of the laser beams allows these scanners to produce incredibly dimensionally accurate 3D models.
- Photogrammetry: Photogrammetry includes photographing an object from multiple angles and stitching the photos together in special software to produce a 3D model. Photogrammetry doesn’t need a special scanner, but the modelling process is slow and requires some expertise.
Out of these technologies, structured light and laser scanning are the most popular 3D scanners in medical applications due to their speed, affordability, and accuracy.
For more information, read our comparison of 3D scanning technologies.
Benefits of 3D Scanners in Medical Applications
But why should medical professionals embrace 3D scanners in medical applications for their everyday jobs? Simply saying it allows them to provide better care doesn’t explain much, after all.
Here are the eight most significant benefits 3D scanners in medical applications offer to the healthcare industry.
1. Faster Scanning
3D scanning is a very high-speed process. Small handheld scanners like Peel3.CAD can digitise single areas — such as one knee — in seconds, and even full-body scans don’t take more than a minute or two.
3D scanners also don’t require extensive preparatory steps, unlike X-ray or MRI machines. After plugging the scanner in and launching the CAD software, all the patient has to do is remove clothing from the body area to be scanned.
2. Lower Operational Cost
Even entry-level MRI machines cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, whereas a high-accuracy 3D generally costs only a few thousand. Although their ultimate purposes are different, this comparison effectively highlights the low-cost nature of medical-grade 3D scanners.
Adding to the low purchase price, 3D scanning requires few or no additional consumables. Compared to traditional methods of imaging patients, such as casts or moulds, 3D scanners are more cost-effective and medical facilities can pass those savings on to the patients.
3. Safer Procedure
3D scanning is a completely safe, non-invasive procedure that doesn’t harm either the patient or the scanner operator. In contrast, X-rays and CT scans inevitably involve radiation, while MRI imaging can cause the patients discomfort with loud noises.
The only theoretical risk with structured light and laser scanners is exposing the eyes to bright lights. However, even this risk can be easily mitigated with basic goggles — or by closing the eyes.
4. Higher Accuracy
3D scanners can’t penetrate the body to image organs, but they provide surface-level scans of unparalleled accuracy. The Peel3.CAD scanner, for example, can capture details as small as 0.1 mm.
Additionally, unlike many other medical imaging techniques, 3D scanning can tolerate slight movements. It’s easier for medical professionals to scan patients who may have difficulty staying still, such as babies or people with involuntary tremors.
5. Increased Flexibility
3D scanners are versatile and flexible machines. They are useful for quickly scanning everything from small body parts, such as a single foot or even a finger, to an entire torso. Even full-body scanning is perfectly possible.
The technology is useful for more than just scanning patients, though. It can help medical appliance manufacturers digitise equipment and parts to cut costs and lead times in product development.
Handheld 3D scanners, whether structured light devices like Peel 3D or laser-based scanners like Creaform, are lightweight and easy to use. Medical professionals can scan hard-to-reach areas, such as feet, without excessive preparation or training.
The portability also allows you to take the machine to patients who may not be able to come to a hospital. With a laptop, the scanner is just as functional during home visits.
A perfect fit is often crucial for medical appliances. The 3D models that 3D scanners create can be freely and easily modified with both proprietary and open-source CAD programs.
The high degree of customizability makes it fast and cost-effective to produce prosthetics, supports, surgical guides, and other appliances tailored specifically to the patient’s anatomy. Doing so, the patients can enjoy more comfort while medical professionals can offer more accurate care.
8. Cross-Technological Compatibility
3D scanning meshes well with a great variety of other technologies. It can complement internal imaging methods — such as X-rays or ultrasound — to create a more holistic picture of the patient’s body and issues.
3D printing also goes hand in hand with 3D scanning. It’s possible to print detailed models of body scans or use CAD software to design and print medical appliances that perfectly fit the patient’s body.
Applications of 3D Scanning in the Medical Industry
Although their full potential may not yet have been realised, 3D scanners already see widespread use in the medical industry. Here are just some examples of how 3D scanners in medical applications on healthcare and medicine.
Diagnosis and Monitoring
3D scanners in medical applications can aid in both diagnosing new conditions and monitoring existing ones. Body part scans can be used to analyse anatomical features and identify conditions such as limb length discrepancy or scoliosis.
It can also help medical professionals evaluate the progress of treatments. 3D scans may help monitor the growth of tumours or the progress of physical therapy, among other things.
3D scanners are much more accurate than conventional body measurement technologies. 3D scanning a patient’s body makes it possible to design prosthetics that fit their unique anatomy perfectly.
The ideal fit is crucial for prosthetics, as they reduce discomfort and prevent the chance of developing complications. By combining 3D scanning with 3D printing, it’s possible to provide patients with personalised prosthetics at an extremely low cost.
Understanding the patient’s condition is vital for successful surgery. Accurate 3D scans help surgeons study the patient and properly prepare for an operation, decreasing the likelihood of complications and improving results.
3D scans of the surgery area also allow medical professionals to prepare form-fitting, accurate surgical guides. Using bio-safe surgical 3D printing materials, they can create these surgical templates and guides quickly and affordably in-house.
Customised Medical Appliances
3D scanners in medical applications can help both healthcare providers and medical device manufacturers create customised appliances. For example, data from 3D scans can be used to order masks or skin guards for burn victims or 3D print mouthguards and aligners for dental patients.
Medical device manufacturers can speed up product development processes by scanning prototypes into easily modifiable CAD files. 3D scanning also allows digitising out-of-production parts and components to extend the lifespan of medical equipment.
Last, but certainly not least, 3D scanners in medical applications can play a vital role in educating future medical professionals. Accurate 3D scans of authentic conditions can be turned into highly detailed anatomical models through traditional manufacturing methods or 3D printing.
Observing real-life models can help medical students gain a deeper understanding of human anatomy and different medical conditions. This detailed knowledge can help them tremendously as they move on to become fully-fledged nurses and doctors.
3D Scanners in Medical Applications Unleashing Healthcare’s Potential
3D scanning is a versatile technology that can make an immense contribution to the medical industry. Although no single technology works for every medical issue, 3D scanning opens up plenty of new possibilities in medicine.
Handheld 3D scanners, such as Peel3.CAD and Creaform HandySCAN, are affordable and flexible devices that can perform non-invasive scans of patients and medical devices within minutes. 3D scanners in medical applications can help healthcare professionals and medical device producers improve their workflows, cut lead times and costs, and — most importantly — offer better care to patients.
Still wondering which of our products is right for you?
Let us help!
Want to find out more about services and support programmes for your business? The friendly experts at Solid Print3D are happy to help!
How it works …
- Discuss your business needs with our technical experts
- Take a tour of best-in-class products at our HQ, based on your interest
- Arrange for your samples to be printed for assessment and see 3D scanning in action