Chicago based startup Dimension Inx is leveraging its founders’ unique experience to launch a set of materials for 3D printing – or bioprinting – just about anything. These materials, that range from metals and graphene to bone-like mixtures – go by the name of 3D Paints. The underlying concept is that mixing them together transforms the 3D printer – or bioprinter – into a 3D canvas.
The terms bioprinting increasingly describes a growing segment of 3D printing which focuses on cold extrusion processes (pressure or screw) to deposit past-like materials and form 3D structures. The Dimension Inx team includes Dr. Ramille Shah and Adam Jakus, respectively as Chief Science Officer and Chief Technical Officer. Both have carried out extensive work on extrusion of advanced materials using the EnvisionTEC 3D bioplotter at Northwestern University. The team also includes John Hartner, former EnvisionTEC Chief Operating Officer, as CEO.
The idea behind the 3D Paints is powerful but may be a complicated to fully convey: how can one extrude metals, pastes, and even biomaterials in the same system and during the same process? The key, as always, is in the materials, says Adam Jakus.
“We developed all the 3D Paints for room temperature extrusion. You could 3D print tungsten with hydrogel if you wanted to. Some materials – not all of them – do require post process sintering. However, the system still enables you to 3D print green metal parts at low cost and room temperature.”
3D Painting Bone Implants
In case of the Hyperelastic Bone 3D Paint materials, which is one of the first commercially available products, the advantages of this approach are even clearer. The company is focusing on it for the first rollout phase.
“This material is 90% hydroxyapatite and 10% medical grade polymer and this makes it quite flexible,” Jakus explains. “The material is functional as is – it does not need further processing or sintering – and this approach could produce other types of flexible ceramics as well.”
Another significant advantage of using extrusion 3D printing is that extreme variety of compatible materials. Many processes – from food 3D printing to construction 3D printing – use this approach. It is ideal anytime some kind of paste is involved. This also applies to highly fluid polymers like silicon, thermosets like epoxies and even highly viscous ones such as graphene. DImension Inx is also taking the Graphene 3D Paint to market.
“Unlike filaments, which have just a very small percentage of materials in the polymers, our 3D Paint Graphene is almost entirely (up to 90%) graphene. This means you are actually 3D printing graphene, which does not require post processing. It is also flexible, highly electrically conductive and biofriendly and biocompatible,” Jakus explains.
The early focus of Dimension Inx is medical applications. The HyperElastic Bone material is ideal for implants and augmented bone regeneration (Jakus says tests have shown excellent results) while the Graphene is for muscle, nerve and cardiac tissue regeneration applications, without the need for added cells.
Limitless Possibilities for 3D Paints
Extrusion 3D printing is the simplest approach to 3D printing: it requires no lasers or heat, no powder beds or enclosed chambers. Paradoxically this makes it one of the hardest processes to use proficiently. Challenges arise in properly shaping the materials and controlling materials processing (hardening, softening) directly at a material level rather than mechanically. For this reason, too few commercial bioprinters – or extrusion 3D printers – have been available to make a business of selling materials. CELLINK realized this when they launched their line of commercial bioinks. By making their low-cost extrusion bioprinter widely available, CELLINK contributed to the growing installed base which is now opening the door to new opportunities.
“3D printing users generally either focus on manufacturing materials like metals and advanced plastics or on bioprinting materials like hydrogels however this line is no longer set in stone,” Jakus argues. “We can now offer functional materials that can aid cellular regeneration in tissues without the need for added cells. This means that these implants have an extended shelf-life. That is not to say that you could not add the hydrogels to implants 3D printed using 3D Paints.”
For the future, there is virtually no limit as to the materials that Dimension Inx will include in the 3D Paints commercial offer. The company tested anything from advanced ceramics to various metal oxides and will eventually take them to market. Jakus says they are now in the process of obtaining regulatory approval for the Hyperelastic Bone. He does not expect complications since it consists largely of existing biomaterials.
The materials also enable 3D printing of rather complex geometries as seen from the images in this post. It is also possible to 3D print more complex geometries separate parts and then “glue” them using the 3D Paint itself. Dimension Inx uses the EnvisionTEC bioplotter but also supports any extrusion system. The 3D print plate becomes the canvas and the range of possible colors has no inherent limit.