Recently, leading creators of microgravity 3-D printers Made in Space and Axiom Space, creators of the world’s first privately owned commercial space station, announced their collaboration. Both companies want to make 3-D manufacturing the norm in space and hope to be up and running by 2020. The use of such technology is almost limitless, but might be most important when it comes to medical applications. Earlier this year, Canada-based 3D4M completed a test of printing of a medical device in space.

The company printed two models of finger splints for jammed fingers, common among astronauts, proving that 3-D printing is possible far above Earth and its gravitational pull.

3D4M’s CEO explains the process to TCT Magazine:

“We take a laser scan stored from the fitting process for space suit gloves, use free software to create a digital model of a custom-fitted finger splint, uplink that digital file to the space station and 3-D print it in space.”

The earthbound uses for this medical technology are endless, especially for humanitarian efforts. We already know that medical apps and telemedicine work in remote locales and conflict zones, so adding the capability to print surgical instruments and devices could help the billions who lack access to proper care.

Already, 3D4M has created over 10 printable tools and wants to create a crowdsourced, quality-controlled library for unlimited humanitarian use. They’ve also teamed up with the World Bank to instruct students about the technology so they can start their own businesses using 3-D printing.

splinting devices