Sep 22, 2017 | By Tess

Metal 3D printing specialist Renishaw has managed to drastically reduce post-processing times for its 3D printed titanium skull implants thanks to an innovative sliding technology developed by Dutch company Rösler.

Rösler's technology, which uses a three-step machining process, has enabled Renishaw’s medical and dental division to finish the 3D printed skull implant in less than one hour, a whopping 80 per cent less than it used to take.

Andy Wescott, an application engineer at Renishaw, explains that prior to the automated post-processing system, finishing a 3D printed skull implant and getting it smooth enough for use could take at least five hours of manual labor.

Not only time consuming, the post-processing steps required extreme care and attention from the working technician, and even a small misstep could make the implant unusable.

It is no wonder, then, that Renishaw is excited to have collaborated with surface finishing expert Rösler to make its 3D printed implant post-processing more automated and more efficient.

The implants themselves are made through a process that converts CT scans into CAD models. This means that the implants are bespoke and specific to the patient in question. Once a 3D model of an implant is prepared, it is additively manufactured on Renishaw’s AM250 metal 3D printer using titanium powder supplied by LPW.

Renishaw's 3D printed implant in the Rösler centrifugal system

Once the print is complete, the work is still not quite finished, as the rough surface of the titanium implant must be smoothed down to an even, biocompatible surface. In fact, as  neurosurgeon Bartolome Oliver, explained, a skull implant requires a satin matte finish in order to be safely implanted.

According to Rösler, by using its novel finishing technology, Renishaw has been able to cut back on its post-processing time by 80% and now the skull implants only require minimal manual processing. That is, once the implant is taken off the printer, the only manual tasks are to remove supports and grind the part’s surface down with a grinding wheel.

After that, the implant can be placed into a centrifugal grinder which uses a three-step machining process to smooth and perfect the print’s surface. To make the technology even more effective and to ensure reproducibility, Renishaw engineers have even crafted an addition to Rösler’s system.

As Wescott explains: “We have developed a holder that accurately positions our workpieces in the mechanical grinder. Unlike in normal applications, the parts do not move freely into the grinding mass but are submerged in a predetermined position in three different types of process media.”

“Specific parts of the workpiece surface must be protected against abrasive media. To achieve this we have developed a container that only keeps those areas in the abrasive mass, which has to be polished and smoothed,” he continues.

The post-processing technology can be seen as a step in the right direction towards establishing a standardized surface finishing process for medical 3D printed parts. At the very least, the breakthrough shows how crucial other manufacturing technologies, such as milling and machining, are to additive manufacturing.

“The surface treatment for 3D printed components is still in its infancy, but I think it's absolutely wrong to consider additive manufacturing as an independent production technology,” added Ed Littlewood, Marketing Director of Renishaw Medical and Dentistry.



Posted in 3D Printer Company



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