The implant that can only be made by 3D printed processes

A patient in Argentina has successfully had a large cranial implant fitted after undergoing stroke related surgery. The procedure placed stringent requirements on the manufacture of the titanium alloy prosthetic as it needed to precisely fit, have very specific permeability to allow brain fluid to pass through, have minimal heat conduction to the surrounding cerebral tissue, as well as biocompatibility to allow bone to grow into the edges of the implant.

The alloy lattice structure was made from titanium powder using a laser sintering process. The pores are approximately 1mm across, with the links about 0.2mm thick, resulting in 95% porosity. To achieve such a fine mesh in a rigid structure, to these tight dimensional and profile tolerances, would be virtually impossible using any other process.

Another challenge was ensuring the material was completely clean and free of any foreign bodies. Given the tight porous structure, this was a considerable challenge, so the team used a multi-step process of abrasion and mechanical cleaning combined with ultrasonics to give the required level of purity to ensure against infections and rejections.

The 3D printing service provider Alphaform AG relied on EOS technology to produce the cranial implant, which was developed by partner firm Novax DMA.

Additive manufacturing represents a number of future healthcare improvements for patients, as it offers the possibility for optimal biomedical characteristics together with the highest levels of biocompatibility and personalised design.

Justin Cunningham

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