Feb 22, 2016 | By Alec
The medical industry is eagerly awaiting the widespread adoption of 3D bioprinting and perfect 3D printed implants, but 3D printing is already making a significant impact in that sector. Countless patients suffering from complex conditions, from unusual fractures to life-threatening heart complications, have already benefitted from 3D printed surgical models that enable surgeons to carefully prepare the upcoming procedure. Finding inspiration in sectors such as the automotive and aviation industries, Turkish medical implant manufacturer TST Tibbi Aletler has now found a new way to benefit from 3D printing: the prototyping of unique orthopedic and arthroplasty implants. To do so, they are using the unusual Blueprinter SHS (Selective Heat Sintering) 3D printer.
Of course, several 3D printed titanium implants have already been used in rare cases, but the fast majority of medical implants are still made with cheaper traditional milling and crafting techniques. But even those techniques, TST Tibbi Aletler proves, can benefit from 3D printing. TST Tibbi Aletler San. Ve Tic. Ltd.Şti., to give the company’s full name, is a major player in the Turkish medical industry. Founded back in 1997 by Ahmet Fethi Polat and now employing 105 people, they are one of the foremost Turkish producers of orthopedic and arthroplasty implants. That means they especially cater to patients suffering from fractures or invasive tumors. As TST Medical Devices, they also sell numerous instruments and tools worldwide.
Their products obviously need to be perfect fits for each and every patient they serve, and as Project and Business Development Manager Orçun Polat explained, this led them to adopt 3D printing for the design process – specifically to produce high quality prototypes and to check their anatomical structures. “Previously we bought a 3D printer from another company, but the prototypes from those printers were not of a quality that we could use. The prototype implants were breakable and not strong enough,” Polat says.
Unsatisfied, they turned to Blueprinter ApS, a Danish company who have developed a very interesting variation on the well-known selective laser sintering 3D printing technology. Called Selective Heat Sintering, their technique replaces the laser beam with more affordable thermal printheads. “[This variation] makes this technology affordable for engineers, designers etc. Blueprinter 3D printer creates flexible yet tough models from nylon powder, suitable for snap and fit functions, design verification, new products development. The SHS technology does not use supports, which makes it ideal for creating complex parts very easily,” the Danish engineers say.
Polat revealed that they were very pleased with the results from this Blueprinter. “we save time because it’s faster than our previous 3D printer, and the resulting printed models are stronger,” he said. The machine is currently frequently used throughout the research and development stages of their products. “With a 3D printer, we can see the diameters of the prototypes, and set a better feel. It is easier to have it on hand, than to check on the computer, because the prototype is the basis for the real implant,” says Polat.
As he went on to explain, they can even use the 3D printed prototypes during ‘mock’ surgeries, where they try to implant them into bone models. “If revision is needed, we redesign and print it again. When it is approved, we produce the titanium implant. When producing implants, we start with the CAD design, and then CAM programing for CNC machining. We make titanium implants two to three times per month,” he further said. Upon completion, a doctor rigorously tests the results before being implanted.
But aside from the quality results, they were also happy with the Blueprinter for being inexpensive in use. “A 3D printer uses a lot of powder. For that reason, we chose a 3D powder printer from Blueprinter, because the leftover powder in the chamber can be reused for the next print. This reuse of powder makes Blueprinter very cost effective,” says Orçun Polat.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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