3D printing - the process of making objects by the successive deposition of material according to a digital model - was in the headlines even before Stratasys' $409m acquisition of MakerBot was announced last week.
But while NASA astronauts' hunger for a 3D printed pizza and Defense Distributed's downloadable gun design have attracted all the attention, additive manufacturing is also being assessed for a wide variety of other applications, including drug delivery.
Ricky Wildman from the University of Nottingham, UK told in-Pharmatechnologist.com about his team's efforts to use 3D printing to make more effective tablet designs in collaboration with researchers from the University of Nottingham's school of pharmacy.
"Our approach is to use the powerful combination of ink jet printing and design optimisation. The idea is to create the optimal design for drug release within a computer algorithm, and then create the complex multimaterial geometry through jetting."
Prof Wildman added that printing better tablets - in common with other next generation projects like NASA's pizza effort - will require the development a system capable of producing objects composed of several materials.
"The next stage of development of 3D Printing is to make multifunctional, multimaterial components and devices. Here at the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Additive Manufacturing our objective is to make that next stage a reality," he said, adding that much of his work focuses on these engineering problems.
But 3D printing drugs also presents some unique challenges Wildman continued, explaining that: "Clear problems that we face are ensuring the highest standards of manufacture and quality control and this will need to be addressed in partnership with regulatory authorities."
The technology could also be used to make drug delivery devices like inhalers, but is probably only likely to be applied to the more complex designs according to Wildman.
"The power of 3D printing resides in its flexibility: you can manufacture objects of a greater degree of complexity than is possible traditionally, where there are many variants on a theme and where you want to distribute your manufacture in small batches.
"Thus 3D printing will open up the landscape for more effective designs of such products and for the manufacture of systems tailored to a specific purpose or person."