July 30, 2015 | By Simon

As we continue to see both the emergence of new additive manufacturing processes as well as an increased adoption rate of additive manufacturing in various industries, we’re also starting to see cases of where these two movements converge to create unique solutions for industry-specific applications.  

Previously, we’ve seen this with advancements in direct metal laser sintering applications for the aerospace industry as well as nanoscale 3D printing for biomedical research.  Now, a group of German scientists have established a new way of using selective laser melting for creating 3D printed medical implants from a variety of metals.  

The scientists, who are part of the Surface Technology Group at Germany’s Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH), have successfully created a highly automated selective laser melting process to produce or coat implants made of platinum, nickel-titanium (NiTi), or stainless steel.  

For the project, which was carried out together with the Institute for Biomedical Technology of the University of Rostock in Germany as a subproject in the cooperative project REMEDIS, which is supported by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), the scientists at LZH used selective laser micro-melting, a process which enabled them to coat electrodes for pacemakers with platinum, produce 3D lattice structures made from nickel-titanium (NiTi) and stent prototypes made from stainless steel.

Among other applications for the selective laser micro-melting, special consideration taken towards lengthening the life of pacemakers.  According to the researchers, one way of lengthening the life of a pacemaker is to intelligently adapt the form and surface of the electrodes.  For this, platinum’s bioinert properties and excellent electrical conductivity characteristics make it an ideal material, however it is hard to be worked on in the micro-range using conventional methods and is difficult to cast using traditional methods.  For the project, the scientists developed a selective laser micro-melting process for successfully coating the pacemakers with a platinum-iridium-alloy.  

In addition to coating the pacemakers with platinum, the LZH scientists were also able to manufacture lattice structures made of NiTi shape memory alloys which feature a resolution of up to 90µm, which also allows them to retain all of the characteristics of the shape memory alloy.

Finally, using laser sintering also enabled the scientists to produce stent structures using stainless steel.  For the project, a closed cell design was developed and produced. Their mechanical characteristics are similar to those of conventional stents.

Between the ability of using lasers to coat electrodes for pacemakers with platinum, produce three-dimensional lattice structures made of NiTi and create stent prototypes using stainless steel, it’s clear that LZH is laser-focused on the intersection of additive manufacturing and next-generation medical implants.  


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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