Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) have leveraged Optomec’s LENS Hybrid Controlled Atmosphere system in the development of 3D printed dissolvable magnesium structures. The dissolvable components are being investigated for medical applications and, specifically, the production of patient-specific implants.
The innovative research, which has utilized Optomec’s metal AM system—the only commercial machine to offer hybrid manufacturing capabilities for reactive metals—ultimately proposes customized implants that safely dissolve (in a time controlled manner) inside the patient, eliminating the need for follow-up surgeries and helping to reduce the risk of complications.
“We are proud to be the first customer of an Optomec LENS Hybrid Controlled Atmosphere System,” said Dr. Michael Sealy, Assistant Professor, Mechanical and Materials Engineering at UNL. “Our research is focused on advancing the performance and functionality of dissolvable devices. Using LENS, we are applying a hybrid additive manufacturing process to control the disintegration of medical fasteners and plates so they stay in-tact long enough to serve their purpose and then degrade away once the bone is healed.”
In the medical industry now, most medical implants are made from titanium or stainless steel, two materials which, while having numerous benefits, are permanent materials that remain the body until they are surgically removed. For this reason and others, titanium or stainless steel implants can often result in complications, which make them less than ideal for patient treatments.
The magnesium implants being developed by UNL researchers using Optomec’s LENS Hybrid Controlled Atmosphere System, however, could offer a solution to the complications that arise from second surgeries by eliminating the need for them. The idea with the patient-specific implants is that rather than be removed, they would simply dissolve away once the patient’s bone has healed. The innovative medical research project is currently being presented at IMTS in Chicago.
“Two years ago, at IMTS in 2016, Dr. Sealy and his team at University of Nebraska became the first customer of our LENS Hybrid Controlled Atmosphere system,” commented Tom Cobbs, LENS Product Manager at Optomec. “Today they are here at IMTS showcasing their groundbreaking accomplishments achieved with their LENS Hybrid system.
“Dr. Sealy’s pioneering work enables the design and manufacture of components with a combination of properties unobtainable using traditional metal working methods. We applaud his innovative use of hybrid additive manufacturing to create and qualify a new class of metal components with unique properties that will benefit mankind.”
The key to working with magnesium as the UNL researchers have is in the LENS system’s controlled atmosphere environment. In other words, because the system has a precise system for controlling elements such as oxygen and moisture impurities (they are kept below 10 parts per million), reactive powdered metals like magnesium and titanium can be processed.
One of the main challenges in the research was finding a way to control the dissolve rate of the printed part, to ensure that it’s integrity is not compromised until it is no longer necessary. Optomec’s AM system reportedly enabled the researchers to combine deposition technology with layered surface treatments to control the degradation of the magnesium parts. Being able to control degradation and dissolve rate is something not only applicable in the medical sector, as it could be used the aerospace and automotive industries as well.
The LENS 3D Hybrid Controlled Atmosphere System used in the medical implant research is unique within the manufacturing industry as the only commercially available system with atmosphere control for both additive and subtractive metal processing. The machine itself integrates a CNC automation platform as well as Optomec’s additive LENS technology.