Benefits vs drawbacks of 3D printing in the Pharmaceutical industry

Posted by Aaron Chen on

3d printed pills and drugs

Since the invention of 3D printing way back in the early 1980s, this technology has been utilised to create almost everything including construction materials, automobile parts and even food and snacks.

One notable application of the 3d printing technology is in the field of pharmaceuticals. The technology also has benefits for pharmacists and medical practitioners. As of today, 3D printing has been a growing demand in the pharmaceutical industry.

However, the used and abused of 3D printed medicines has also been the subject of discussion nowadays. This is because it can also have some downsides. This blog post will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of 3D printing in the pharmaceutical industry. Read on below.

Benefits of 3D printing in the pharmaceutical field

3D printing has brought innovations in the pharmaceutical field. Here is a list of the few benefits offered by 3D printing.

Quicker pre-medical assessment of new drugs

3D printing has given pharmacists and medical engineers the ability to customised drugs by modifying the design straight to its CAD file. In this way, iterations can be made more quickly. These iterations are also a lot cheaper than the traditional way of manufacturing medicines.

For instance, tweaks or adjustments in the excipients, salt forms and dosages of the medicines can be made easily.

Chance for personalised medication

For patients with multiple diseases, a 3D printed pill such as a “polypill” can be used. Polypill contains multiple active ingredients that are combined into a single pill. This is used to treat different diseases.

Some pills are also designed to treat the disease of some particular patient. However, the patient’s age, weight or organ function must also be considered.

New formulations for improved drug

With the conventional method of producing medicines, some pills are difficult to swallow. But with 3D printing, pills can be designed according to a patient’s preferences.

For example, medical engineers can create a pill that can disintegrate rapidly in a patient’s mouth, thus, making it easier to take.

Spritam: First 3D printed drug

In 2015, Aprecia was the first pharmaceutical brand to use 3D printing technology to produce a drug called Spritam. This drug is meant to treat symptoms of epilepsy such as onset seizures and myoclonic seizures.

When it was released, Spritam also received the necessary US FDA approval. The drug has a unique structure that dissolves significantly faster than the average pill.

On-demand pharmaceutical manufacturing

3D printing allows pharmacies and healthcare providers to print medicines on-demand instead of mass producing them. In this way, the pharmaceutical industries can revolutionise the supply chain. Therefore, lowering distribution costs.

Drawbacks of 3D printing in the pharmaceutical field

Though 3D printing technology has some benefits in the field of medicine, it also brings with it a few disadvantages. There are still many downsides that are not on this list. Nevertheless, here are some major drawbacks that pharmacies and medical practitioners should know about 3D printing.

Product liability risk

With 3D printing, pharmaceutical companies can authorise their blueprints to pharmacies and healthcare providers. Thus, they can now easily print drugs locally.

However, pharmaceutical companies cannot possibly oversee the efficiency of every 3D printing operation. Moreover, they need to consider the potential product liability implications.

According to the pharmaceutical companies’ role in providing their product blueprint, they may be partially responsible for any undesirable incidents or product defect claims.

Other parties involved such as the printer manufacturer, material supplier, software designer, and product manufacturer may also be liable for this fallout.

For pharmaceutical companies who are planning to venture into 3D printing, they should develop a policy for certifying their blueprints. In this way, they will ensure that they are financially and legally protected.

Cyber risk

The rapid increase in reproducing fake pills is one of the greatest concerns with 3D printing. Furthermore, 3D printers are now being used by hackers to produce counterfeit medicines faster than the traditional manufacturing method.

As an illustration, hackers who gain access to a medicine’s blueprint can mass-produce the drug overseas. This can exploit the intellectual property of the pharmaceutical company. Moreover, if the drug is improperly produced, it can cause harm to the patients. Thus, hitting the pharmaceutical company’s reputation and financial status.

Apart from that, hackers can also make modifications to the medicine’s ingredients or doses. This may lead to severe health consequences for the patients.  

Safety and efficiency of 3D printers

The traditional way of mass-producing medicines is subject to intense supervision from authorised agencies such as FDA. This guarantees the company and the consumers that the products are manufactured carefully.

However, with 3D printing, the FDA cannot regulate every printing operation. Thus, determining how the product is developed may be questioned. Furthermore, with 3D printing, there is still a possibility of defective 3D printer and unnecessary printing failures.


3D printing has been an advanced technology in the field of medicine. It has the potential to open new doors in product development, manufacturing and product distribution. Aside from that, it allows the personalisation of medicine to be more accessible.

Apart from the benefits that are mentioned above, the downsides of 3D printing in this industry must also be considered. Nonetheless, for pharmaceutical companies who are considering 3D printing in the future, understanding the drawbacks that are listed above must be the priority.

If you are interested in 3D printing, don’t hesitate to ask for help from the experts. There is a 3D printing service provider in Sydney that can provide outstanding 3D printing services. These include custom 3D printing, 3D design and modelling, industrial 3D printing and many more.

Topics: 3d printing

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