The U.S. military has been investigating how to use 3D printing to solve supply chain issues involving front-line soldiers. Now, a group of Army and Navy researchers have developed a plastic surgical kit that can be printed on-site and used to treat battlefield wounds.

"Over a period of less than three months the team developed and demonstrated the ability to produce sterile surgical instruments in a field setting using a material extrusion 3D printer," the research team stated in a recent technical brief. "Rapid trials of the instrument designs resulted in a functional surgical kit which could be printed in a single build on the 3D printer. At the conclusion of the project the 3D printer and surgical instrument kit were demonstrated in a mock field surgery."

The 3D printed surgical kit includes: a Kelly hemostat, needle driver, tissue forceps, retractor, scalpel handle and Metzenbaum scissors. They were printed on a Stratasys Dimension printer using ABSi-Ag as the build material. ABSi-Ag is a new plastic resin with silver loading that is under development by Stratasys.

"Treatment of battlefield trauma presents a unique set of challenges, among which is the logistical challenge of providing sterile surgical instruments to surgeons," the team stated in their report. "Transport and supply constraints limit the quantity and variety of surgical instruments available in the field and sterilization equipment is also not available to support the instruments on hand."

The new 3D printed surgical kits can be produced all at once as a single build and are automatically sterile because of the high processing temperatures required to work with the ABS thermoplastic.

3D printed surgical kits are just one of many new uses the Army is discovering for 3D printing. They have sent supply pods equipped with 3D printers to the front lines where engineers are working to meet the needs of the soldiers on the ground.