As metal 3D printing expands, the two industries that seem to have been impacted the most are the medical and aerospace industries. Metal additive manufacturing is creating stronger, more effective, and less expensive airplane parts, often in a fraction of the time, and 3D printing is becoming such an integral part in the construction of spacecraft that you can hardly find news about space travel without encountering the technology. As for the medical industry, metal additive manufacturing is having a particular impact on orthopedic devices and implants. 3D printed titanium is all but eliminating the major problems associated with common procedures like knee replacements, and it’s even been used to print entire bones.
One company that’s really beginning to receive attention for metal additive manufacturing is Metalysis. The English company developed an innovative process for producing metal powders directly from their oxides in one step, improving end products and reducing environmental impact. The process is showing significant promise in orthopedics, and a new partnership with research and technology organization TWI has led to the development of custom 3D printed hip replacements and spinal implants that could dramatically improve the outcome for recipients of these surgical procedures.
“It is tremendous to be partnering with TWI, a company that has so much knowledge in the manufacturing and medical industries,” said Dion Vaughan, chief executive of Metalysis. “TWI has great expertise, particularly in the use of lasers in additive manufacturing, which we hope will help to bring individual joint replacements into the mainstream of mass manufacture.”
Metalysis specializes in tantalum, a valuable metal often used in medical implants for its strength and biocompatibility. The company recently completed a study, in collaboration with TWI, that proved the effectiveness of Metalysis’ tantalum powder in the SLM additive manufacturing of medical implants. 3D printing has allowed for implants to be structured as lattices rather than solid hunks of metal, which improves fit, reduces weight, and overall makes things much more comfortable for patients. The study conducted by Metalysis and TWI utilized the former’s tantalum powder to print lattice structures that ultimately could result in customized hip replacements and spinal implants.
“We have already seen the great success Metalysis has had printing automotive parts,” said Richard Pargeter, a technology fellow at TWI. “Our analysis suggests these metals are incredibly versatile and highly suited to the medical industry. Metal 3D-printed hip replacements could be a huge step forward, allowing patients to have a tailor-made joint by scanning their other hip and matching it with a metal 3D-printed replacement, rather than being restricted to the choice of standard sizes now available.”
The lattice structures produced in the study proved themselves to be able to replicate natural bone in terms of strength and stiffness, and to integrate with existing bone cells in a way that should dramatically reduce the risk of rejection. Like other 3D printed devices, the implants can be produced at much less cost than those made with traditional manufacturing methods. Titanium and tantalum have been particularly expensive and difficult to produce in the past, but their effectiveness in medical implants makes them highly attractive, which is why there’s been so much excitement in the medical industry about the ability to 3D print these metals. Metalysis, who only opened their commercial plant last year, has become a global supplier of tantalum powder, which means we’ll likely be seeing a lot more of them. Discuss your thoughts on these new processes in the Metalysis Tantalum 3D Printing Powder forum over at 3DPB.com.