Feb 4, 2016 | By Kira

French 3D printing company Z3DLab, specialized in metal additive manufacturing through SLM (selective laser melting) and the development of novel metal 3D printing materials, has developed the first ever metal composite material that combines the strength of ceramic zirconia with the malleability of titanium—two biocompatible materials that are widely used in industrial manufacturing, particularly in the medical, dental, automotive and aerospace industries.

Named ZTi-Powder, it is the first ever titanium-ceramic composite for metal 3D printing, and is currently promoted as the world’s hardest material for selective laser melting. Though it was officially patented back in September 2015, Z3DLab recently presented their ZTi-Powder at the 3D Medical Expo, which took place at the MECC in Maastricht. There, it discussed the materials’ composition, properties, as well as the two different variations of the composite powder developed for medical and aerospace applications, respectively.

When it comes to the manufacturing of high-demand parts, the materials used are just as, if not more important than, the manufacturing process. That is because each composite possesses its own unique mechanical, heat-resisting, conductive, chemical-resisting and abrasion-resisting qualities. Even the most advanced SLM metal 3D printer in the world wouldn’t be able to make an adequate dental implant if it weren’t fed the correct, biocompatible material.

When it comes to medical additive manufacturing applications, such as 3D printed dental or bone implants, titanium is one of the most commonly used materials. It is biocompatible, relatively tough, resists bodily fluids and has a similar elasticity to natural bone. Yet at the same time, titanium comes with a number of issues: namely, its low abrasion resistance, and potential to cause allergies.

“It was discovered that the Titanium alloy has a low hardness value and poor wear resistance and a poor resistance to oxidation in valves and pin connections. When it is in an oxygen depleted environment such as dental or bone implants, it is then capable of releasing Aluminum and Vanadium ions in body fluids, which is a potential source of allergies,” said Z3DLab.

Zirconia, a ceramic material, is also highly sought out in medical and aerospace 3D printing. It is biocompatible and has a similar elasticity to natural bone, like titanium, however it is also highly resistant to wear and abrasion, 50% harder than titanium, lightweight, and can withstand temperatures over 1000°C. It’s only defect: it’s not as malleable as titanium, making machining somewhat difficult. Talk about a match made in composite materials heaven.

Distribution of the components of the alloy ZTi-Powder

Surface of a sample of ZTi-Powder after laser fusion at 400W

“ZTi-Powder was designed in response, among others, to solving these issues by intimately incorporating Titanium and Zirconia in a single material,” said Z3DLab. “ZTi-Powder is the hardest material in the world for Additive Manufacturing by Laser Melting opening new, unexplored perspectives with global reach.”

In terms of its medical 3D printing applications, ZTI-powder’s primary advantage is that it virutally eliminates the risk of triggering allergies when used in bone or dental implants, prostheses, plates, staples, screws, or more. Z3DLab added that although they have carried out tests with SLM 3D printers, nearly any powder bed and laser-based metal 3D printer could work.

Because of its strength and high heat resistance (capable of withstanding temperatures over 1000°C), ZTi-powder is also ideal for aerospace applications, however the company has developed a slightly different variation for this use. The main difference is that aluminum and vanadium—elements that trigger allergies in the human body, and were thus removed from the medical variant—have been left in.

In addition to medical and aerospace applications, Z3DLab believes that ZTi-powder has a variety of industrial opportunities, including automobile manufacturing and even exploring new frontiers in science and energy research.

Z3DLab was founded in 2014 in collaboration with CEA-Liten (the Laboratory of Innovation for New Energy Technologies and Nanomaterial), the CNRS (National Science Research Center) and the LSPM (Process and Materials Science Lab).



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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