Beyond the X-ray: ProJet 3D Printed Models Improve Surgical Results for Customers of Planmeca Oy

"X-rays provide a lot of critical information, but for complex procedures, a 3D physical model can make a world of difference." – Jukka Kanerva, Product Manager, Planmeca Oy

Beyond the X-ray: ProJet 3D Printed Models Improve Surgical Results for Customers of Planmeca Oy

An X-ray tells doctors a lot about a patient’s anatomy. But surgery takes place in three dimensions, and an X-ray is ultimately nothing more than a picture. Surgeons would benefit significantly from tangible physical models of patients’ bones, precisely rendered in real size.

Three-dimensional printing technology is now providing such models on demand from 3D X-ray data, enabling maxillofacial surgeons to better plan their operations, shorten procedure time, lower costs, and, most importantly, improve results.


Getting better surgical outcomes
The models come from Planmeca Oy of Finland, the largest privately owned high-tech dental equipment maker. The company manufactures most everything one might encounter in a dental office, including specialized dental units, their attachments, X-ray machines, and software for running an entire practice. The company recently saw the opportunity to maximize the value of the 3D data its X-ray machines produce. The data, they knew, could form the basis of 3D physical models created in a few short hours with three-dimensional printing. 3D printing is the automatic, layer-by-layer construction of a physical model from 3D data. It works much as document printing produces a business letter line by line from word-processing data.

“X-rays provide a lot of critical information, but for complex procedures, a 3D physical model can make a world of difference,” said Jukka Kanerva, product manager for Planmeca Oy. “As the surgeon can familiarize themselves with the anatomy beforehand, the patients spend less time under anesthesia, less time with open tissue, less time in the hospital afterward, and less time undergoing remedial procedures.”


Multicolor 3D printing
The Planmeca ProModel service employs the ProJet® 460Plus multicolor 3D printer to produce the models. The process starts in the dental office or hospital. Doctors X-ray the patient, typically with a Planmeca ProMax 3D machine, then use an electronic form in Planmeca Romexis imaging software to send the data electronically to Planmeca headquarters in Helsinki. Planmeca ProModel professionals then use software to apply colors and labels to print the anatomy.

In addition to skulls, jaws and teeth, the Planmeca ProModel service depicts tumors and existing dental hardware, such as implant screws and reconstruction plates. Multicolor 3D printing capability enables Planmeca to spotlight critical areas and to annotate models with text labels. Many models call out the sensitive mandibular nerve in color. Planmeca ProModel requires no additional effort or special imaging protocols – just a routine 3D X-ray exposure from any Planmeca ProMax 3D imaging system. In less than 24 hours, the model is finished and shipped to the doctor.

In addition to examining the anatomy and planning procedures, surgeons can use 3D printed Planmeca ProModels to precisely bend reconstruction plates, fit screws, design drill guides and practice removing tumors, all prior to entering the operating room. Because models are autoclavable, drill guides can be used on the patient, and models can be brought into sterile areas during the surgery. 


Shorter stays, lower costs, better results
Medical professionals have found Planmeca’s 3D printed models enormously helpful in a wide range of cases, including implants, overgrowth, tumor removal, bone grafts, and skull reconstruction. 3D printed Planmeca ProModels are also useful in educating the patient, students and other medical professionals in clinical, education and written forums. When there’s a tangible replica of the patient’s anatomy to work with, the case and treatment options become clear.

Used as a pre-operative planning tool, doctors say a 3D printed Planmeca ProModel reduces operation times by one to two hours on average, intensive care days by one to two per patient, and operation costs by an additional 10 percent. By enabling practice, fitting and deep understanding, it generates better aesthetic results and fewer complications.

Planmeca chose a ProJet 460Plus. ProJets are the world’s fastest 3D printers and the only ones capable of simultaneously printing in multiple colors. The ProJet 460Plus in particular is easy to use, highly automated, self-contained, and suitable for a professional environment, according to Kanerva.

“Planmeca ProModel is an important service for Planmeca,” he says. “It’s improving patients’ lives and helping us continually develop products and services that improve results for patients and providers alike. 3D printing is an indispensable part of the cycle.”