Disrupting Medical Manufacturing

The medical sector has received Additive Manufacturing with open arms owing its slew of advantages that include producing patient-specific implants which otherwise are time-consuming and expensive when made using traditional machining methods. Read on for TRUMPF’s technological advancements in the field that have helped Moscow-based CONMET achieve its goals.

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing as it is commonly known, is ideal for producing medical devices. When designing an implant, a CAD engineer will first create a computer model based on precise patient data and then set the 3D printer to work. Intricately shaped, made-to-measure implants are no problem for TRUMPF’s TruPrint 1000 3D printer. What’s more, products made using this technology have excellent material properties – for example, implants that are robust but elastic and shock absorbent, or implants with a porous structure that fuse well with healthy tissue but remain stable and durable.

Additive manufacturing is also suitable for producing custom-fit implants on a cost-effective basis. And since these implants are made-to-measure, surgeons no longer need to trim them to shape. All they have to do is remove the clean and sterile implant from its protective pouch and proceed with the operation. A further benefit is that, unlike conventional machining methods, 3D printing does not produce any waste in the form of shavings or swarf. And in the manufacture of medical implants, where the material of choice is generally an expensive titanium alloy, this means genuine savings. Finally, with additive manufacturing, there are none of the retooling costs of conventional methods that result from wear and tear during milling or turning, for example.

Working Together for Solutions

CONMET, a Moscow-based market leader in craniomaxillofacial surgery and implantology, first looked at additive manufacturing some ten years ago. At the time, however, the technology was still insufficiently mature for such applications. “CONMET asked various machine-tool suppliers to produce benchmark parts but wasn’t happy with the quality,” recalls Andreas Margolf, Project Manager, Additive Manufacturing, TRUMPF.

In 2017, the company decided to take another look at the technology and approached TRUMPF to find out how far it had evolved. “We set up a second meeting. Over the course of two days, our experts answered all their questions on additive manufacturing, while our machines produced the benchmark parts,” she adds. This time, the quality of parts and the design of the system met the company’s requirements.

CONMET also wanted a partner that could provide it with backup services for the actual process. “TRUMPF is the only supplier on the market for 3D printing that develops its own lasers and all the optical components. We also have a wealth of experience in the areas of machine tools and services. That means we are able to assist CONMET with any aspect of the process,” Margolf explains.

Compact Footprint and Short Set-Up Time

The first task was to determine the right machine for CONMET, along with the relevant process parameters. It was soon clear that the ideal set-up was TRUMPF’s own TruPrint 1000 3D printer with the laser focused to a diameter of 30 µm. This machine is especially compact and could, therefore, be easily installed in CONMET’s existing production facilities.

Equipped with a 200 W fiber laser developed by TRUMPF, the machine has no problems working with the titanium alloys generally used to produce implants. TRUMPF also spent quite some time fine-tuning the focal diameter at which the laser beam hits the powder bed. “Our tests showed that reducing the focal diameter to 30 µm improves the surface smoothness of the implants by around 20 percent. This makes the process slower and slightly more expensive, but that’s not a key issue in the field of medical devices,” Margolf explains.

TRUMPF also provides CONMET with the titanium powder from which the implants are made. “We’ve supplied 20 Kg of powder for each of the titanium alloys used by CONMET, along with the corresponding process parameters,” she adds. This ensures that the quality of material for the implants produced by CONMET is of a reproducibly high standard.

Saving Production Costs

CONMET has been operating with the TruPrint 1000 at its Moscow production facilities since the beginning of 2018. The company uses the new machine to produce dental implants and craniomaxillofacial implants for cancer patients.

These products are marketed in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) region and Europe. Hospitals provide
CONMET with CT data of patients. Engineers at CONMET then design the implant, in consultation with the surgeon, and the machine prints it out. “We currently produce 60 implants a month with the TruPrint 1000, and are planning to increase our output by ten percent,” says Nadeschda Morozova, Project Manager, CONMET. The implants not only have an especially high quality level overall, they are also substantially cheaper. “Compared to conventional machining methods such as turning and milling, the new process saves us 40 percent in production costs,” reveals Morozova.

In the near future, CONMET intends to start producing custom-fit spinal fixation devices using 3D printing. The company also has plans to manufacture mass-produced prosthetics with the TruPrint 1000. For this, CONMET will be investing in new machinery and has once again opted for TRUMPF technology. As Morozova explains, the new machine will be a TruPrint 3000, with a larger construction chamber.

Local Service Partner and Russian-Speaking Technicians

The medical devices produced by CONMET are certified according to European standards. And since TRUMPF supplies not only the 3D printer, but also all the associated products, including the coating tool, substrate plate, software and process parameters, the implants produced with the 3D printer are also perfectly congruent. Should CONMET have any questions about 3D printing, TRUMPF’s local agency, TRUMPF Moscow, is on hand to provide a local service partner and Russian-speaking technicians. “It’s not just about the customer buying equipment from us; we also want to see them earn money. CONMET’s success with additive manufacturing shows we are on the right track!,” states Margolf.

In the near future, CONMET intends to start producing custom-fit spinal fixation devices using 3D printing. The company also has plans to manufacture mass-produced prosthetics with the TruPrint 1000.

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