Additive manufacturing in medical technology
At its heart, the medical field is about people and their quality of life, and medical technology is a crucial tool here. Products for the industry need to support patients in the healing process in a meaningful way, help them gain mobility and improve the quality of their lives.
Optimum patient care in orthopedics, implantology and dentistry demands high-precision, perfectly fitting medical products. In medical and dental technology, there is a demand for parts produced individually or in small batches which must satisfy extremely high quality standards with regard to materials and workmanship.
Medical technology is one of the most important pioneer industries of additive manufacturing. It is characterized by small batch sizes, manufacturer-specific adaptations and implants (sometimes one-offs) custom-tailored to individual patients which can be created in large numbers simultaneously in a build envelope. Meanwhile, additive manufacturing has also found its way into medical technology in the mass production of standard implants.
The individualization and perfect fit of products, geometric freedom during production and a long service life play a decisive role. Other requirements placed on products include high mechanical loads, specific elasticities and bio-compatibility.
General spectrum and potential of medical technology
The industry consists of manufacturers of implants and prostheses, medical instruments and the field of dentistry. The industry is regarded as a driver of innovation and a continual growth market for additive manufacturing. Thanks to additive manufacturing, metal parts which were previously cast or milled, in addition to parts made of polymer materials, can often be substituted with metallic and long-lasting 3D components. In terms of its future prospects, industry experts and surgeons consider the potential growth for this industry to be very high.
Applications and materials in medical technology
The applications of medical technology include, among others, implants for the skull, hip, spinal column, foot, knee joint and other prostheses for fractures, deformities, degenerative instability, tumor diseases etc. Surgical instruments and medical devices are other typical applications of 3D metal printing, as are crowns and bridges, model castings and abutments in the dental field.
High-performance bio-compatible materials, such as titanium and titanium alloys, in addition to cobalt-chrome alloys and stainless steels are used here. Special demands with regard to geometry, batch size (on-demand, patient-specific one-off production), surface structure and elasticity (eModule) are placed on these different material groups. The use of certified original materials, such as those also previously used for cast or milled parts, enable manufacturers to choose the powder-based additive manufacturing option very quickly.
Individualization and geometric freedom in medical technology
The advantages of 3D metal printing in medical technology are especially apparent in the great flexibility of the manufacturing process. Thanks to laser melting, the most complex geometries mimicking human bone structure can be created and parts can benefit both from low weight and high mechanical loadability. Porous micro-cellular surfaces which enable good integration of the implant into the surrounding tissue and accelerate healing progress are possible. Implants can also be tailored to suit individual requirements for a perfect fit. At the same time, the desired elasticity (eModule) of a part can be designed using "selective densities." For implants of the musculoskeletal system, such as hip implants, a titanium component can be produced with sufficient stiffness, lightness and elasticity. Hollow structures and indentations which allow the product to serve additional functions, such as medication storage, or which allow the part to be designed with a lighter weight, can also be produced. Thanks to these possibilities, whole new products and product designs can come about. These are products which simply could not be made a reality using prior conventional production methods. The implementation of highly complex solutions from nature can also be made possible thanks to additive manufacturing processes for medical technology.
Cost and time savings in the production of medical products through additive manufacturing
From an economic standpoint as well, the 3D printing process in medical technology is superior to conventional methods of shaping and machining. This means that components which previously had to be assembled from several parts can be manufactured in one piece or one shot. The adaptation options from dimensions and geometry to batch sizes of one ensure maximum alignment with the needs of patients and their quality of life. In addition, several individual parts can be manufactured on a single build platform, which ultimately leads to time and cost savings. Small and medium-sized series can also be produced very flexibly and economically.
As no lead times or costs for the preparation and long-term operation of tools are incurred in comparison to the casting of metal, the cost structure and availability of parts from toolless manufacturing are shown to be disparately better. This is also made possible 24/7 thanks to fully automated additive manufacturing. In contrast to milled parts, the reduction in waste (i.e. less material used and less waste) carries weight with manufacturers. "Production on demand" ensures timely availability in the operating room.
Resource-conserving additive manufacturing in medical technology
LaserCUSING® is a resource-conserving manufacturing process. The main argument for additive manufacturing, besides unmanned manufacturing (24/7 option) and lower energy expenditure for processes in comparison to conventional manufacturing methods, is significant conservation of resources with regard to the material used. With laser melting, only slightly more material than that required for production of the final product is consumed. This being the case, considerably less material is used in comparison to milling processes. The material waste from 3D metal printing is also kept to a minimum in comparison to machining processes. In addition to the conservation of natural resources, this aspect also naturally plays a major role when it comes to economic viability.
Concept Laser: A competent partner to medical technology
Functional parts with sophisticated geometries and defined medical characteristics can be manufactured very quickly and cost effectively with high-performance laser melting systems from Concept Laser. The powder bed-based machines from Concept Laser also offer the appropriate tools for quality assurance and monitoring, which also instantly provide valid data while the part is being created.
The machines are also characterized by the use of the highest-quality components and rugged machine construction. Immense value was placed on safety, especially near reactive materials, such as titanium, and the operating friendliness of the systems. In addition to being designed according to ATEX guidelines, machine solutions from Concept Laser are characterized by spatial separation from the processing and handling area. In addition to the aspect of safety for the machine operator, this also enables easy loading and unloading, as well as optimum access to all components in the machine.
The build envelope spectrum of LaserCUSING® systems currently offers manufacturers the most comprehensive spectrum of systems in the world. Concept Laser offers much more than just the necessary materials and systems for additive manufacturing with regard to medical technology. Thanks to its deep understanding of markets and precise knowledge of specific development processes, Concept Laser works close together with a solid network of partners. Concept Laser provides expert advice to partners in medical technology and accompanies this sophisticated target group during the entire development and production process.
General advantages of additive manufacturing in medical technology
The plus points of 3D metal printing in medical technology in general include:
- Unlimited geometric freedom for product manufacturing
- Patient-specific, perfect-fit production solutions down to batch sizes of one
- Precise setting of surface roughness or grid structures for fast integration into tissue
- Precise setting of desired elasticities (eModule)
- High bio-compatibility (titanium is also suitable for those with allergies, for example)
- Time-to-market: Shorter build times and faster availability for patients
- Manufacture of the parts in one shot, i.e. reduction in assembly outlay and weak points
- Cost savings and resource conservation thanks to considerably less waste as compared to classic machining methods with considerably less material use through prompt, toolless manufacturing (no up-front or tool costs for tools, such as with metal casting)
- Fully automated and digitized manufacturing, 24/7
- Overall improvement of cost structure and economies of scale.