Optomec Introduces New Hybrid 3D Printing System, Used By Researchers to Make Dissolvable Magnesium Medical Implants


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New Mexico-based Optomec is well-known for both its aerosol jet technology, which is used to 33D print electronics, and its other patented AM process: LENS, which uses Directed Energy Deposition (DED) for high-value metal 3D printing. The company has been busy in the last few years, winning contracts and awards and providing resources on its technologies. In 2016, the company first showcased its hybrid LENS Machine Tool series, which consist of a CNC Vertical Milling platform integrated with Optomec’s proprietary LENS metal 3D printing technology.

This week at IMTS 2018 in Chicago, Optomec is introducing the latest addition to the series – the LENS 860 Hybrid Controlled Atmosphere (CA) System.

“The new LENS 860 suite of systems builds on the success of our Machine Tool Series, first launched at IMTS in 2016,” said Dave Ramahi, Optomec President and CEO. “These new larger machines continue to demonstrate our ability to transition Optomec production-proven 3D Metal Printing capability onto traditional CNC platforms that match the cost, performance and ease-of-use demands of the traditional machine tool market. These products are a key element of our strategy to bring Metal Additive Manufacturing into the industrial mainstream.”

The new large-format LENS 860 Hybrid CA System offers more capabilities for high-quality, affordable metal hybrid manufacturing, thanks to its higher laser power support and larger build volume of 860 x 600 x 610 mm. It features a hermetically-sealed build chamber that maintains moisture and oxygen levels below 10 ppm for processing reactive metals, like titanium, and can cost-effectively produce and repair parts.

The system offers versatility, as it can perform wide area cladding for wear coating applications and 3D print fine, detailed features for thin wall metal structures. It can also be configured with a high-power 3kW fiber laser and closed loop controls, which makes it the perfect choice for building, repairing, and coating mid- to large-size parts that offer superior metal quality. Optomec’s powerful software allows for 5-axis build strategies, which can combine both subtractive and additive operations in one tool path; the company also provides several material starter recipes to speed up adoption with the LENS 860 Hybrid CA System.

Performing finish machining on a 3D printed part with the LENS Hybrid configuration’s milling capability, without having to align it on another machine or re-fixture it, is one of the many advantages of the LENS Machine Tool Series, which start at under $250,000. There are three additional configurations to the LENS 860 Hybrid CA System model in the series: two Additive-Only models, both of which are Open and Controlled Atmosphere, and and the 860 Hybrid Open Atmosphere (OA) system, which is a good platform to use when processing non-reactive metals like Tool Steel Inconel and Stainless Steel.

You can see the new system for yourself this week at Optomec’s booth #432204 in the West Building at IMTS 2018. The first customer shipments of the LENS 860 Hybrid CA System will take place later this year.

Speaking of customers, Optomec also shared the details at IMTS of how the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) is using one of its new LENS Hybrid CA Systems to create dissolvable magnesium components for applications in the medical field.

Medical implants, like screws and plates, made of stainless steel or titanium, are permanent structures that can have high complications rates and need to be surgically removed and fixed. But the university’s work with the LENS Hybrid CA System will allow the creation of 3D printed, patient-specific implants with a controlled time to dissolve, which will lower the costs, risks, and suffering of patients who will no longer require a second surgery to remove implants.

Professor Mike Sealy of UNL and his team are using an Optomec LENS Hybrid CA System to advance the performance and functionality of medical implants.

“We are proud to be the first customer of an Optomec LENS Hybrid Controlled Atmosphere System, the only commercially-available machine to provide hybrid manufacturing capabilities for reactive metals. Our research is focused on advancing the performance and functionality of dissolvable devices. Using LENS, we are applying a hybrid additive manufacturing process to control the disintegration of medical fasteners and plates so they stay in-tact long enough to serve their purpose and then degrade away once the bone is healed,” said Dr. Michael Sealy, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at UNL, and a pioneer in advanced manufacturing research.

Optomec’s LENS 3D Hybrid CA System is the AM industry’s first atmosphere-controlled system for additive and subtractive processing of metals, and combines the company’s industry-proven LENS technology with a strong CNC automation platform. The system will make it more cost-effective to introduce metal 3D printing to industrial markets.

The UNL is a 3D printing and hybrid AM leader, and using the LENS Hybrid CA System allows Dr. Sealy and his team to combine layered surface treatments with LENS technology in order to 3D print magnesium components with controlled degradation – a coveted design capability in the medical field, in addition to areas like automotive structures and lightweight aerospace. Whereas dissasolvable and bioabsorbable 3D printed polymers have been shown dissovable metals is completely new.

“Two years ago, at IMTS in 2016, Dr. Sealy and his team at University of Nebraska became the first customer of our LENS Hybrid Controlled Atmosphere system. Today they are here at IMTS showcasing their groundbreaking accomplishments achieved with their LENS Hybrid system,” said Tom Cobbs, LENS Product Manager at Optomec. “Dr. Sealy’s pioneering work enables the design and manufacture of components with a combination of properties unobtainable using traditional metal working methods.  We applaud his innovative use of hybrid additive manufacturing to create and qualify a new class of metal components with unique properties that will benefit mankind.”

Dr. Mike Sealy and UNL students have been using a LENS metal hybrid AM system from Optomec to advance research in key areas such as heavy machinery, medical devices, and aeronautics.

Reactive materials and powdered metals, such as titanium and magnesium, have to be processed in a controlled atmosphere, where oxygen and moisture impurities can be kept below 10 parts per million. Dr. Sealy used the Optomec LENS 3D Hybrid CA System to process these kinds of materials in a way that allowed a degradable implant to hang onto its integrity and strength long enough to complete its job. He is also working with Sentient Science to investigate hybrid processing techniques of 7000 series aluminum for the US Navy.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Images provided by Optomec]

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