3D Technology for Tablets-the Gentle Disruption

Quantum Leap Innovation from the Perspective of Technology Providers

Digitization creates the conditions for new business models for technology providers, especially in the health care sector. The following is an example from the area of the future individualized provision of personalized medicine.

Until now, it has been left to pharmaceutical companies to produce and distribute tablets almost monopolistically and thus to take over a not inconsiderable part of the added value. However, this could soon change due to a decentralised business model which will be discussed below.

In the future, personalised medicine will bring tailor-made therapies for patients. This means that the patient supplies a wide range of medical data (via sensors, fitness trackers, etc.) that he has collected himself, which the physician evaluates and uses to prescribe any individually effective medication with exactly the right dosage. The patient therefore comes to the pharmacy with the prescription for a prescription drug as usual. Now 3-dimensional (D) printing comes into play as a new technology for the production of individual tablets that are no longer mass-produced.

However, the production of individualised tablets by 3D printing could be too time-consuming for individual pharmacies, so that specialised printing contractors take over these tasks in the sense of outsourcing. Specialised technology providers produce the 3D tablets in the exact dosage and quantity required. An individual dosage prevents overdosage with side effects or underdoses that would otherwise not be effective. In addition, patients should demonstrate better compliance, as these products have been manufactured and optimized only for them. 

The technology providers involved have a battery of different 3D printing technologies and can therefore optimally implement the required formulation, which is briefly explained below for the most common procedures:

- Stereolithographic 3D Printing (SLA): SLA uses UV light to cure photosensitive materials.

- Selective laser/heat sintering (SLS/SHS). SLS uses high-energy laser light, which leads to the sintering of powders, which in turn combine in layers (Rahman et al 2018.). 

- Ink Jet Powder Bed: The product is created layer by layer by binder and strengthened e.g. by UV polymerization. The first commercial 3D tablet (Spirtam) is produced in this way.

- Fused deposition modeling (FDM). This technology is currently the most widely used for 3D tablet production. In FDM, a thermoplastic filament is melted and pressed through a print head and produced layer by layer.

- Semi-solids extrusion (EXT). In EXT, semi-solid materials are briefly heated by extrusion through a narrow orifice to produce the 3D product layer by layer.

In addition, technology providers will provide trained personnel for these new innovative technologies in the future, resulting in an optimal partnership for pharmacies. The 3D printed products can then be delivered to the patient again via the pharmacist.

Should pharmaceutical companies not themselves become a supplier of 3D printing materials (cartridges or filaments) containing the respective active ingredient, technology providers could also serve this market. Possibly these could be offered even by companies, which manufacture 3D printers already.

The 3D printer will of course only be used for tablet printing, the entire manufacturing process will be certified and must meet the requirements of Good Manufacturing Process (GMP). 


It remains to be clarified to what extent the programmer of the 3D software, the technology provider as manufacturer or the pharmaceutical company will be involved.


Thus, the 3D printing of tablets should establish itself as an interesting and lucrative niche alongside the conventional tablets produced by compaction. Even if the mass-produced traditional tablets, which can be produced in large volumes, will still be needed in the future, a new important field for individualized orally effective medicine will emerge. Thus, a future quantum leap innovation for technology providers in the field of 3D printing can be expected.

How do technology companies assess this assessment of the quantum leap potential of the 3D tablet?


Note: the entire contribution represents the opinion of the author and not that of any of his previous or current employers, and this publication is not supported by them in any way.


Interested in more blogs about 3D printing?

In the previous episode a quantum leap innovation from the point of view of health authorities was explained.

In the next episode the quantum leap innovation is explained from the point of view of innovation managers.


Dr. Volker Moeckel

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