Flexible 3D printing process revealed

14 April 2016

A 3D printing process which can work with multiple materials at the same time could allow for the quicker production of more personalised and complex bone implants, dentures, surgical tools or microreactors.

Presenting their process this week at Medtec, the researchers claim it will allow medical components to be created in almost every conceivable design using additive manufacturing methods.

We have no limitations in terms of type or colour of material for the target components. This allows us to process ceramics, glass, plastic, or even metal using thermoplastic 3D printing. One more advantage is that several different materials can be produced at the same time,” said Dr Tassilo Moritz of Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems (IKTS) in Dresden.

One area multi-material 3D printing is important is surgery. For example endoscopes, which cauterize blood vessels using an electric current, require both high performance steel and an effective insulator to avoid shocking the patient. Manufacturing components for endoscopes separately and assembling into surgical instruments leaves crevices that are difficult to clean - 3D printing an endoscope all at once could prevent this.

Another area the researchers hope their new 3D printing process will aid is the development of microreactors; small pharmaceutical plants, which in a futuristic scene could sit next to a patient’s bed and produce personalised medicines.

However some argue that there are biocompatibility and quality issues raised with additive manufacturing technologies.

Mechanical testing and biocompatibility questions may arise with medical devices produced using additive manufacturing…additional research on improving material characteristic and manufacturing methods related to 3D printing needs to be carried out to overcome these challenges,” said Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) analysts.

Following initial success in the lab, the tea m is now seeking partners to collaborate on developing the technology for a real-world application.

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