In China, AK Medical is a leading manufacturer of joint prosthetic devices and, interestingly, it was also the first company to receive approval for the implementation of metal 3D printed implants in China by the National Medical Products Administration (NMPA). Today, medical device company has scaled up its production of orthopedic implants thanks to a fleet of eight GE Additive Arcam EBM systems.
The need for orthopedic implants, including knee hip and spinal devices, is growing, especially as the global population increases and people’s life expectancies increase. AK Medical is one of the companies hoping to meet this growing demand with the help of sophisticated additive manufacturing technologies. AM is not new to the company, it has reportedly been using EBM 3D printing for over a decade, but a recent expansion of its AM fleet is now enabling it to scale up production significantly.
To date, the company has developed five metal 3D printed orthopedic implants that are certified by the NMPA and these are being used by orthopedic surgeons across China. Like other companies working with AM in the medical sphere, AK Medical is leveraging the technology to improve implant design through customization and bone morphology.
“Our aim is to serve both patients and medical experts,” said Mr. Li Zhijiang, chairman, chief executive officer and executive director at AK Medical. “With our advanced products, we strive to make the treatment of orthopedic conditions more efficient and easier, while bringing about better outcomes and quicker recovery times to our patients.”
AM has also been key in reducing lead times for implants and improve patient outcomes. This last benefit is largely due to the trabecular structure that can be 3D printed and which leads to better integration between the implant and the patient’s natural bone.
EBM has been the technology of choice for AK Medical because of its ability to produce high-precision, fully dense parts. The company has worked with a range of EBM systems, from the first generation Arcam model to the latest Arcam EBM Q10plus system. Because the technology operates in a vacuum environment, it offers a high melting efficiency, and is well suited for stacking. The process also requires less heat treatment post-printing, which leads to lower costs. For instance, AK Medical says that it is possible to save about 38% in costs when using EBM to product an acetabular cup compared to other AM processes.
“We have used EBM technology for more than a decade, so when we recently needed to invest in new machines, we naturally opted for the Q10plus,” said Mr. Li. “The Q10plus system provides a user-friendly interface, a higher precision of processing, and better-quality products. It helps us improve the cost efficiency of both standard production and small-scale customized production.”
AK Medical has also been involved in advancing AM for medical applications, working with clinical and R&D partners to overcome certain challenges with the technology, including standardization. On this front, the company has helped to develop several local industry standards for 3D printed medical products. As the company continues to grow, it is placing more of a focus on 3D printing, and also plans to expand its production beyond bone joints into other orthopedic areas.
“We look to the future full of confidence,” concluded Mr. Li. “Additive technology itself is tremendously advantageous in terms of cost, and personalized customization is increasingly becoming an industry trend. And when you begin think of it in combination with CT, nuclear MRI, software, the Internet, 5G and many other technologies, then additive is likely to unleash greater potential to boost the entire medical industry.”