A US-based 3D printing company is working with researchers to develop ‘disappearing’ magnesium parts – 3D printed medical implants that are designed to slowly dissolve in the body. Liz Nickels spoke to Optomec to solve the mystery.

Optomec is a privately-held supplier of additive manufacturing (AM) systems based in Albuquerque, NM, USA, and specialises in aerosol jet systems for printing electronics and LENS 3D Printers for printing metal components in high volume.

Since 1997, the company has made parts for a range of industries, including electronics, energy, life sciences, aerospace and defense, and the Internet of Things (IoT)/Optomec also says that it can print a wide range of materials – from electronic inks to structural metals and even biological matter.

Recently the company has been working with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) to develop dissolvable magnesium components for medical use, using its LENS Hybrid Controlled Atmosphere System. The university recently established the Nebraska Engineering Additive Technology (NEAT) Labs to create a regional hub for AM research and innovation.

According to the Optomec, the components could have broad-reaching implications in the design and manufacture of next-generation medical implants. The research could enable 3D printed, patient-specific implants with controlled time to dissolve, eliminating the need for second surgeries and thus also reducing risks, costs and suffering for patients.

Besides orthopedics, the ability to control the disintegration of a structure could also be of interest to applications in cardiology, and urology – as well as areas such as lightweight aerospace and automotive structures.

‘We are proud to be the first customer of an Optomec LENS Hybrid Controlled Atmosphere System, the only commercially-available machine to provide hybrid manufacturing capabilities for reactive metals,’ said Dr Michael Sealy, assistant professor, mechanical and materials engineering at UNL, who specializes in advanced manufacturing research. ‘Our research is focused on advancing the performance and functionality of dissolvable devices. Using LENS, we are applying a hybrid AM process to control the disintegration of medical fasteners and plates so they stay intact long enough to serve their purpose and then degrade away once the bone is healed.’

Currently, medical implants – such as plates and screws – are made of titanium or stainless steel, which are permanent structures that often have high complication rates and require a second surgery for removal.

This article appeared in the March–April 2019 issue of Metal Powder Report. Log in to your free materialstoday.com profile to access the article.

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