What’s So Special About Medical 3D Printing With Metal?

What’s So Special About Medical 3D Printing With Metal?

In the world of medical device manufacturing, several common methods exist for working with metal. They are: casting, forging or forming, and milling. Other sub-categories also exist, such as turning, sand casting and electrical discharge machining (EDM).  Each method of manufacturing has strengths and weaknesses, and different applications may call for one approach over another. However, when creating extremely complex end-user products such as those that contain lattice structures, none of the traditional metal manufacturing technologies work.

Titanium being 3D printed.

Not only does additive metal manufacturing open up design options and eliminate design constraints, additive manufacturing also help engineers accelerate the manufacturing of both prototypes and final products without the need for time-consuming production of tooling to form finished products.  Additive 3D printing allows for the creation of complex structures to be made without the need for expensive tooling, and products to be produced at speeds not possible with conventional methods. But until recently, 3D printing was limited to just plastic-based materials. With advancements in technology, 3D printing with metal is now a reality.

There are many advantages to 3D printing metal, including:

  • Strength and durability: put simply, metals are strong. While ABS is a great material for external devices (and LEGOs), in many surgical applications stronger materials such as stainless steel, aluminum and titanium are necessary.
  • Manufacturability: for many implants, titanium offers superior strength and biocompatibility properties but is difficult to manipulate during manufacturing due to its hardness. 3D printing not only allows titanium to be manipulated freely, but also in design and variations not possible with traditional manufacturing. PEEK, which is also commonly used, offers weight saving advantages compared to traditional metals like stainless-steel but is also difficult to control due to its high-temperature requirements during manufacturing, which can introduce warps if not maintained and controlled. 3D printing allows precision with advanced material manufacturing that’s never been possible.
  • Biocompatibility and sterility: medical-grade metals with proven biocompatibility such as Ti6Al4-V titanium alloy and 316L stainless steel can be manufactured.  Using the same materials currently used for medical devices and instruments ensures standardize sterilization processes and natural evolution of generations of implant systems.
  • Complex structures: there are many complex designs that can only be fabricated using 3D printing, matched to bone shape and function, which when done in metal, are impossible to make using conventional manufacturing techniques. This ability allows components to be printed that are patient-matched.
  • Weight savings: because 3D printing allows for high-strength lattice structures to be made, a device can retain structural strength that’s equal to or stronger than traditional manufacturing methods, while offering significant weight savings.
  • Rapid prototyping: as with all engineering development, time to market is critical and 3D printing enables components to go from design to patient-ready in short time frames.
  • Risk mitigation: because 3D printing is fast, designs can be verified early, and refinements can be made.
  • Cost savings: expensive tooling, molds, and use of heavy manufacturing facilities are avoided, thereby reducing costs. Refinements to design are easier to perform and prototype, without modifications at a “factory line.”
  • Material savings: additive manufacturing is different from traditional methods in that only the required amount of materials for a product is used. In traditional methods, material is taken away from a larger stencil, which often leaves wasted materials.

In modern orthopedics, surgeons strive to develop new methods to make implants that are both stronger and more individual. With conventional metal-forming techniques, creating replacement implants that are better matched to the patients who receive them is impossible.

PrinterPrezz is the first and only medifacturing company in the world that strives to address the needs of both medical care providers and their patients. Leveraging a multi-disciplinary team of medical doctors, engineers, and materials scientists, PrinterPrezz uses its proprietary technology processes to bring more advanced medical devices to market faster.

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