Originally written for SCG Innovation Institute.
Three dimensional (3D) printing is big news for the healthcare industry, and Australia is one country which is leading a 3D manufacturing revolution.
3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing which is a process that involves successively layering materials in order to create a three dimensional object. So far 3D printing has successfully used plastic materials and even biomaterials to create a range of low cost, customised hearing aids, prosthetics and splints.
But in a handful of laboratories across Australia, researchers have gone one step further and developed a powder which allows products made of titanium, such as hip-joint replacements, to be manufactured through the 3d printing process. The process used to produce the metallic powders is unique to Australia and not only will allow for lower cost, customised products to be produced without the lengthy wait associated with traditional manufacturing, but it will significantly reduce the waste products from traditional titanium manufacturing processes as well. In some manufacturing processes it can take up to 11kg of titanium material to produce 1kg of finished product. With 3D printing there is little to no waste involved, as the printing technology allows products to be printed in a complete shape rather than in separate shapes which must then be machined and attached together.
The titanium powder was developed by researchers at the CSIRO and the head of the project hopes that this will pave the way for Australia to become a globally competitive provider of 3D printed titanium products through widespread application across a vast number of industries, including the healthcare and biomedical engineering industries.