3D Printing + Titanium Casting = Single Day Custom Surgical Implants

Two members of Dr. Boonrat's team that presented their project.
February 18, 2015 -- BIT Magazine Imagine being in an accident and requiring a plate to be implanted in your body to help your body heal properly. You are in pain, scared, and exhausted. Would you prefer to be poked and prodded, fitted for your plate, and even face the prospect of it not fitting and needing it to be redone over the course of days or weeks?

Or would you rather have a single non-invasive imaging scan, have that sent to engineers to model and print out precisely in the shape required, cast in titanium or stainless steel, and be delivered in a single day?

That is becoming a reality thanks to a team of researchers and engineering students at Thailand's Chulalongkorn University. Led by Dr. Boonrat Lohwongwatana, the implants are the result of multiple projects finally coming together and working their way through regulatory approvals and trials. Methods had to be developed to develop accurate scans, turn them into wax 3D printed models, then use those models to cast the parts in titanium. Currently, the project is working toward animal studies and clinical trials.

While the process is easy enough to understand, taking a look at some of the research undertaken by Dr. Boonrat and his team reveals just how much is involved in making ideal implants for the purpose of helping patients recover from traumatic injuries. One report titled "Replication of Trabecular Bone Structure and Reaction Layer Analysis of Titanium Alloys Using Investment Casting Technique" reveals that titanium alloys must be specifically cast with a "compatible surface microtopography for bone cells adhesion and proliferation" in mind. 

Titanium implants like that depicted above could be made easier and faster.
Readers can then appreciate the amount of time and effort such developments require to go from theory to a readily available medical procedure we might someday take for granted.

Dr. Boonrat's team presented their project at this year's Chula Engineering Innovation Expo 2015. Two members of his team were on hand to discus the process and show off some of the test articles produced.

The innovation illustrates the the power of 3D printing and yet another practical application it is being used for. While most people think of what a printer can make directly, there are actually many designers, engineers, and makers using 3D printers to create casts and others elements used in yet another manufacturing process.

In fact, small businesses attempting to cut costs in terms of manpower, hours, and resources while researching and developing a new prototype or production mold have turned to 3D printing. A 3D printed object can be used as the basis of creating a permanent mold used for mass production or shorter runs. 

For makers, much can be learned about the design process behind any project, but biomedical projects are particularly interesting and important, because the key to driving down costs is in driving up the number of people working together and collaborating to develop new innovations. That can only be done if we understand what it takes to actually come up with an idea and turn it into a safe and useful solution.

The added dimension that 3D printing was used, makes such projects even more exciting.

BIT Magazine is a bi-lingual platform for Thailand's maker movement to connect, grow, and collaborate with maker communities abroad. Follow us on Twitter here or on Facebook here.
3DClass370         Ad_370