In recent years, innovations achieved through 3D printing while utilizing titanium powder in the field of healthcare are amazing. For decades the health care industry could only imagine that additive manufacturing would become a tool for researchers in the medical field. These advances are evolving faster; moreover, titanium powder is enabling new and interesting ideas and fantastic new innovations.
The orthopedic department of Peking University recently announced new developments. Doctors undertook orthopedic clinical trials in 3D printing to produce artificial vertebral parts. Of course, this type of prosthesis has already been printed in 3D, but this is the first time they have been implanted in a patient.
The lucky recipient of this artificial vertebra is a 12-year-old boy named Minghao, and the young patient is the first person in the world to have a vertebral implant of this type. After a neck injury, incurred during a football match, a cancerous tumor was discovered on the second cervical vertebra of the boy, located in the spinal cord. There was an urgent need to remove it to prevent the cancer from spreading.
The standard protocol is normally to replace the vertebrae with a hollow titanium tube, but the patient can no longer lay his head down for 3 months, and must be provided with pins to stabilize everything. By using titanium powder to reproduce the vertebrae, the recovery time is significantly reduced compared to traditional techniques.
The 3D printing complimented with titanium powder has helped design a vertebra that perfectly fits Minghaos’ small frame, and this new vertebrae has the advantage of being perfectly adjusted to the adjacent bone, and does not need to be secured with screws. The titanium implants also exhibit a very low rate of adverse reactions of the immune system.
The results so far are very promising, and the Director of the Department of Orthopedics, Liu Zhongjun, has expressed optimism for using 3D organ printing and implants in the future.
An Industrial Revolution
The equipment that is used to print the implants is really nothing new, but the metal titanium powder used for the creation of implants opens up the door of possibilities. What is new is how 3D printing is used to design and form prostheses. Rather than relying on square shapes that are easier to produce, the ability of the 3D printer to create highly complex geometries reduces the amount of additional hardware needed to build a generic implant that allows individuals to become mobile. Another advantage is the porous nature of the printed implant that allows bone to grow into the implant and create a natural bond.
At one time, the 3D printing technology seemed to have lost its novelty, but the introduction of this metal powder has ignited a boom for commercial industries, especially medical, automotive, art and lifestyle investors who see the potential in this technology. It’s really a matter of how inventive and creative you can become because armed with a 3D printer and titanium powder, you can produce just about anything.
More importantly, as the benefits of 3D printers grow, so does the demand for titanium powder. The demand for specialized metal powder to feed these machines almost tripled in the four years to 2013.
Why Titanium Powder
Titanium has become a key material in medicine and aerospace due to its excellent compromise between strength and weight, in addition to its high corrosion resistance and bio-compatibility.
Titanium alloys have improved mechanical properties and chemical behavior. It’s mechanical properties (strength, ductility, fatigue, etc.) allows for excellent usage in particular to the ability to shape thin and lightweight parts. Additionally, 3D printing makes it easier to manufacture titanium parts and prevents impurities obtained with traditional techniques.
• Its density is about 60% of that of steel
• Its corrosion resistance is exceptional in many environments such as sea water or the human body. In fact, Titanium is one of the most bio-compatible metals, along with gold and platinum, that is resistant to body fluids completely
• Its mechanical properties are to a high temperature of about 600 ° C and up are excellent cryogenic temperature
• Its fire resistance, particularly hydrocarbons, is very good. It has been shown that a tube of 2 mm thickness has no damage or risk of deformity or explosion and can withstand a pressure of ten atmospheres
Traditionally, 3D printers have been very large and horribly expensive, found in industry-leading corporations. They allow machining parts to be created with high accuracy especially in aeronautics (The Airbus A380 and printed components), automotive (Audi) and the medical sector (Peking University).
This technology has also been adopted for the purpose of rapid prototyping industry, in architectural firms and other big names in design. But today, thanks to RepRap, an open source project that began in 2005, and these machines have democratized and spawned a generation of 3D accessible to ordinary people.
Professional printers can use up to 200 different materials including plastics, metals, titanium, etc. and as with any technological advance, the success of an innovation often depends on the context in which it develops.
Technological, Medical and Environmental concerns are, more than ever, the center of all discussions. In addition, the outsourcing and off-shoring are starting to show their limits.
• These printers can accommodate rapid-manufacturing locally and thus reduce CO2 emissions and costs due to transportation and delivery time.
• 3D printing limit the waste of raw materials and its coupling with the new modes of small-scale recycling are expected to provide new opportunities for up-cycling quality.
• 3D printing can minimize time constraints for organ transplants and change the ways we produce and/or waste everything.
3D printing has the ability to solve one of the biggest worries of orthopedic medicine, or for that matter, surgery in general. Whether the nose, the jaw, blood vessels, and various parts of the human body, a 3D printer can replicate. Moreover, with the compliment of titanium powder, many industries can creatively and vigorously implement cost-effective solutions for the consumer.