As we began to hear more and more about 3D printing with metal, interest began to pique around the world—and in fact, even many novices you speak with today may be busy printing away with more basic materials for now but will tell you that for tomorrow’s projects, they are very interested in finding out more about working with metal. Although generally requiring much more sophisticated equipment and operation, metal 3D printing is where it’s at primarily for one reason: strength.
This area of 3D printing, certainly at the top in terms of production and quality, is evolving at an accelerated rate, offering enormous product and materials development. One material we are hearing about quite often too is titanium alloy, as it’s being used for a range of implants.
FMI Instrumed, a Dutch supplier, is now one of the first to deliver such technology to the Benelux (comprising Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) in the form of serial orthopedic titanium implants manufactured using a Concept Laser M2 Dual Laser metal printer with QM quality monitoring systems. The choice of hardware from Concept Laser is not surprising as they are a German company specializing in laser printing/melting with metal, and especially titanium alloys.
Examining current CNC technology, FMI Instrumed wanted to branch out and offer new products not available through that method. As a result, they will be manufacturing new porous structures and components, all resulting from their past three years in metal 3D printing, which includes partnering with AddLab, a pilot factory for 3D metal printing in Eindhoven. It sounds as if they’ve taken all the correct steps in methodically moving into the area of 3D printing, adding the Concept Laser metal printer, supplied by Landré in Vianen, who will also provide service support.
Already responsible as the approved supplier for medical implants to many OEMs in Europe and North America, FMI Instrumed houses an ‘advanced machine park’ where they perform high-precision making, now to be heavily accentuated with metal 3D printing. Their specialty as a contract manufacturer lies in manufacturing both implants and instruments for the medical industry, to include items like orthopedic implants and poly-axial bone screws. Their continued success has been a result of providing quality, good pricing, and a broad spectrum of goods in a competitive market with stringent quality requirements.
“With all the facilities for high-precision processing and surface processing in house, FMI is now also able to carry out all the finishing,” states the company in their latest press release.
The AddLab facility has been a boon for both knowledge and production, as FMI joined with eight other companies. In the past years, they have all worked as a group in learning more about how to use 3D printing for the greatest benefit in their sector, working on a range of challenges together. The overall collaboration sounds very valuable for all involved as they were able to take on design issues, processes and parameters, materials and process qualifications, and then share all of their cumulative knowledge before going their separate ways. The whole point afterward was for each company to go back to their businesses with renewed knowledge after three years of learning and sharing. With such an experience, FMI gives AddLab credit as the precursor to their new ventures.
“Having a metal 3D printer alone is not enough, because metal 3D printing is just one part of the process. You also need to be able to do all the finishing in house. We are talking about wire-EDM and milling to separate the products from the supports; post-machining like milling, polishing, tapping screws and other surface finishes, such as passivation and anodizing,” said Managing Director Henk Jansen.
“We can even use laser welding to connect a 3D printed component with a machined component. With all these competencies in house, the metal 3D printing process broadens our spectrum as an additional competency and we strive to develop it into a fully-fledged production technology. Globally speaking we are a relatively small company with just 50 employees, but with this broad spectrum of competencies we are certainly unique.”
To complement the amount of knowledge gained through AddLab, FMI sought an in-house specialist, hiring Ruben Wauthle, who has over seven years of 3D printing in metal, with a special focus on implants. With a strong team, the company is able to strengthen their position in production, as well as offering a stronger competitive advantage, all of which benefits their customers. With the addition of the Concept Laser system, they have a comprehensive system in place.
“Our ambitions require a metal 3D printer that has a proven track record as a production machine. Concept Laser is one of the few to offer systems that can be used immediately as proven technology. Other manufacturers are certainly promising, but for our application they are often still working with a Beta version. The German manufacturer Concept Laser offered the option of two lasers (Dual Laser), which enables us to run dual production or to continue with just one laser if the other one is down,” continued Jansen.
“Furthermore, the fact that the powder does not come into contact with air is important to us as it makes the process ATEX-secure and in turn that guarantees the safety of our employees. Concept Laser is also advanced in terms of process monitoring. We purchased the various QM quality modules together with the printer. We specifically liked the construction of the printer itself and the manufacturer’s DNA and we liked the installation and service of supplier Landré, guaranteeing service support close to home.”
As stated, in a marketplace featuring strict requirements, quality assurance procedures and certifications are tantamount.
”That guarantees the client 100% reliable products and a repeatable process. Therefore we are monitoring every process step in detail,” said Jansen. “The QM quality-monitoring systems make an important contribution to that. We expect to complete the process validation within the next few months and will be the first in the Benelux to start printing medical implants, integrated in other machining and finishing processes.”
The company plans to participate in a variety of orthopedic trade shows, offering presentations in international venues and finding new leads for making medical implants along the way. Their new programs and projects often have a ‘ramp-up’ time of two years, during which time they are able to go from prototyping and engineering to testing and proving new processes and products.
“Our knowledge of the manufacturability is our greatest added value,” states the team.
Being able to offer all production in-house is huge benefit for everyone, allowing for a streamlined validation process that then provides an open and streamlined route to other markets, like the semi-conductor industry. Currently, however, they plan to put a strong focus on the serial production of medical implants with a high variation within a high volume.
FMI is a great example of how innovation in metal 3D printing and titanium is expanding around the world. We certainly have the privilege to learn a great deal on a daily basis about the transformations occurring in areas like the medical industry—and these are generally quite significant.
While we’ve followed unique and heartwarming special interest cases like that of the macaw named Gigi getting a titanium beak, we are also seeing 3D printed craniofacial implants, titanium vertebrae, and even 3D printed thumb bone implants. Those are just a few examples, as dynamic new companies seek to lead the way in improving the quality of life for many who probably never imagined one day they might be needing or receiving a metal implant—and almost definitely did not foresee thanking an incredible concept like the 3D printer for their good fortune. Are you surprised to hear that FMI is the first in the area to provide their technology? Discuss in the FMI Metal 3D Printing forum over at 3DPB.com.