Powder Advancements Extend Medical Possibilities

November 30, 2020

Medical-implant developers require a manufacturing technology that delivers speed, individualization and the ability to produce complex designs. 3D printing, paired with bio-compatible materials such as titanium, is demonstrating its potential as the medical industry’s manufacturing technology of choice for life-changing solutions. Given this, Sandvik’s additive manufacturing (AM) and powder specialists are busy developing materials and implant technology, report company officials.

Consider that, in the past, surgeons used metal mesh to replace areas of the body such as skull bones, which tended to be weak and lacked precision. 3D printing eliminates these flaws by employing medical imaging to create a customized implant, shaped exactly according to an individual’s anatomical data. Examples such as this drive AM development for medical applications.

And, AM can help overcome other challenges when producing medical implants and prosthetics. For example, the fitting process for a prosthesis typically involves several visits to create a device that fits a patient and that patient’s particular needs. As a result, the time between a patient’s life-changing surgery and receipt of the implant or prosthetic can be painstakingly slow. 

At Sandvik’s titanium-powder plant in Sandviken, Sweden, R&D focuses on the potential of 3D-printed titanium devices to convert these possibilities to reality. 

“Titanium, 3D printing and the medical sector are the perfect match,” explains Harald Kissel, R&D manager at Sandvik Additive Manufacturing. “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.”

“If a patient undergoes a serious accident, one that destroys areas such as the skull or spine beyond repair, there simply is not time to spare to ensure that reconstructive devices fit correctly. “Instead, the patient is given solutions that work, but aren’t tailored to that particular body.”

In addition, long waiting times and a lack of customization greatly impacts how a patient feels undergoing a life-changing event or procedure, according to Kissel, pointing out that even today, prosthetic patients use devices that do not move, or are crafted as simple hooks.

“Using computer tomography, it is now possible to optimize designs that cannot be produced using other manufacturing methods,” Kissel says. “What’s more, we can make our designs lighter, with less material waste and with shorter lead times. A patient could receive a perfectly matching device, in less time and using a high-performing, lightweight material.”

In an important step toward realizing such implant and prosthetic manufacture and performance, this past summer Sandvik’s Sandviken plant earned ISO 13485:2016 medical certification for its Osprey titanium powders, according to company officials. And, the company is participating, via its material expertise, in a unique research project: The Swiss M4M Center 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 and cost-effectively. 

“The Swiss M4M Center is intended to build up and certify a complete end-to-end production line for medical applications, such as implants,” Kissel says.

Industry-Related Terms: Additive manufacturing
View Glossary of 3D Metal Printing Terms


See also: Sandvik Coromant Company

Technologies: Applications


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