3D printing and titanium powder – a life-changing combination
The advancements of modern-day technology within the medical field are fascinating. Still, the lack of individualization and on-demand availability may cause negative side-effects for people in need of implants, prostheses or other medical devices. 3D printing combined with titanium, the metal of the future, will change it all.
Life-threatening accidents, vertebral damages, chronic osteopathic conditions and negative side-effects from medical treatment can all cause irreparable damage. The consequences can be painful, debilitating and even fatal.
Titanium is one of few metals accepted by the human body.
Medical implant technology has developed vastly over the years, and one technology is set to transform the way we treat people. The medical implant developers require a manufacturing technology that delivers speed, individualization and the ability to produce tailor-made and complex designs. 3D printing, paired with materials like titanium, demonstrates its potential as the medical industry’s manufacturing technology of choice for life-changing solutions.
“Titanium has excellent properties and is one of few metals accepted by the human body, while 3D printing can rapidly deliver results for an industry where acting quickly could be the difference between life and death,” says Dr. Harald Kissel, R&D Manager at Sandvik Additive Manufacturing.
3D printing vital for customized design
Sandvik has leading capabilities across the entire additive manufacturing value chain – and offers the widest alloy program on the market for 3D printing. The company has recently inaugurated one of the world’s most cutting-edge titanium powder plants in Sweden. Within the walls of the highly automated plant, well-renowned Osprey® titanium powders are produced, certified for use in the most advanced medical applications.
In addition to titanium’s material benefits, additive manufacturing can help overcome some of the challenges when producing medical implants and prosthetics. Typically, the process of getting a prosthesis involves several visits to create a device that fits the person and their needs. As a result, it can take a painstakingly long time.
“If a patient has a serious accident, one that destroys areas such as the skull or spine beyond repair, there is simply no time to ensure the reconstructive device fits correctly. Instead, people are given solutions that work, but aren’t tailor-made exactly to their bodies,” Harald Kissel explains.
Long waiting times and a lack of customization can really impact how a patient feels.
Using computer tomography makes it possible to tailor-made the medical device directly from an individual’s anatomical data. These customized designs cannot be produced using any other manufacturing method than additive manufacturing. Patients receive a device with a perfect fit, and in less time – 3D printed in a high-performing, lightweight material.
“Long waiting times and a lack of customization can really impact how a patient feels after they’ve undergone a life-changing event or procedure. Even in 2020, there are still people using prosthetics that do not move, or are simply just hooks.”
Ground-breaking research project
Another innovator within the medical sector is OssDsign – a Swedish medtech company dedicated to creating cranial implants for improved healing of bone defects. They provide neurosurgeons and reconstructive plastic surgeons around the world with an expanding range of innovative implant solutions, in part made from a 3D printed titanium mesh, for improved outcome.
“Being able to combine additive manufacturing of a reinforcing structure with our own proprietary ceramic material is really what defines OssDsign, and has allowed us to evolve into the world’s premier manufacturer of bespoke cranial implants” states Kajsa Björklund, Director Technical Operations at OssDsign. “Titanium, with its proven biocompatibility, is a natural choice of material for a medical application such as ours – and additive manufacturing makes it possible for us to design and manufacture unique implants for each and every patient in need of a cranial reconstruction”.
To reinvent the future of medical devices is an experience out of the ordinary.
Sandvik is also part of one of the most ground-breaking research projects within the medical segment to date, contributing with its extensive material expertise. The Swiss m4m Center in Switzerland is a public-private partnership initiated by the Swiss government, aiming to evolve medical 3D printing to a level where patient-specific, innovative implants can be developed and manufactured quickly, with high quality and cost-effectively.
“The Swiss m4m Center is intended to build up and certify a complete end-to-end production line for medical applications, like implants. Being able to facilitate this initiative through the unique material knowledge that is found within Sandvik is an empowering experience. Joining forces with an array of experts, to reinvent the future of medical devices as well as the lives of thousands of people, is an experience out of the ordinary,” Harald Kissel concludes.
3D printing of medical implants in titanium
- The World Health Organization estimates that 30 million people need prosthetic and orthotic devices.
- Cranioplasty is the surgical repair of the skull, to fix damage resulting from a previous operation, medical condition or injury. Plates are often made from titanium, synthetic bone or a solid biomaterial.
- Medical implants such as skull plates have been around for many years, but breakthroughs in manufacturing technology are improving opportunities for individualization, while delivering faster results.
- Spine implants, skull plates, hip joints, prosthetics and other skeletal parts can be 3D printed and tailored to fit individual patients.
- 3D printing of implants and medical devices enables rapid manufacturing directly from an individual’s anatomical data — enhancing the healing process and improving the prognosis for the patient.
- These 3D models can be generated using standard medical imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computer tomography (CT). This creates a product that is completely unique to the patient.
Titanium powder and additive manufacturing
- Titanium is noted for being strong yet light, while offering high levels of corrosion resistance and biocompatibility.
- The cost and complexity of machining from titanium billets has historically restricted its use to high-value, low volume industries.
- With additive manufacturing, it is much easier to form complex shapes using titanium powder, which is 3D printed layer by layer.
- Sandvik’s metal powder plant in Sandviken, Sweden, is one of the world’s most cutting edge titanium powder plants.
- The powder plant has received the ISO 13485:2016 quality certification for the production of titanium powder for use in medical applications.
- The plant produces high-quality titanium powders for additive manufacturing.
- Sandvik has a world-leading position in metal powder with the widest range of AM-alloys on the market, marketed under the Osprey® brand
- The company has also made sizeable investments into a wide range of AM printing technologies since 2013 — and has well-established and leading competence across the entire AM-value chain.
- In 2019, Sandvik acquired a significant stake in BEAMIT, a leading European-based AM service provider, and in 2020 the BEAMIT Group acquired 100 per cent of ZARE, bringing together two leading AM service bureaus in Europe to create one of the largest independent AM service providers, serving the most demanding industries.
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