Organised by Materialise in collaboration with EOS, the first Rapid Implant Manufacturing Forum took place in Leuven on 12 September 2007, providing a platform for discussing the latest trends in implant development and production using layer manufacturing technologies such as laser-sintering. Many of the techniques discussed will also be of interest to engineers working in other fields - including machine building.
The event was attended by more than sixty people from 16 different countries. Several speeches highlighted how layer manufacturing technologies are used today in the medical implant industry, and they also gave an outlook to the future.
Layer manufacturing technologies increasingly play a role in this industry due to different factors: the implant industry requires individual solutions; and the market is driven by flexibility, cost and quality – requirements that layer manufacturing technologies can fulfil. The symposium outlined the advantages that these technologies offer: reduced operation time and patient discomfort; freedom of design and functional integration in the development of operational devices and implants; and reduced lead times.
Peter Ostiguy from DePuy Spine gave an impressive presentation on the use of the Direct Metal Laser-Sintering (DMLS) technology. The company has relied on the technology since just February 2007 and has already produced more than 1200 parts. So far these have mainly been used for evaluation purposes and sales samples. Ostiguy states: "Furthermore, we see a large potential in the surgical arena. The DMLS technology spawns a new foundation on how we design our components. In the past we designed for manufacturability. Now, with laser-sintering, we can design for functionality."
Using DMLS, DePuy has reduced lead times in some projects by up to 50 per cent, even if product iterations became necessary. DePuy also predicts a wider use of DMLS manufactured instruments to be used in operating theatres once the new, hardenable material EOS StainlessSteel PH1 is commercially launched. The material fulfils the ASTM E8 specifications as built and complements the existing material EOS Stainless Steel 17-4. It is currently being tested at pilot customer sites.
Other speakers at the conference also reported on the use of laser-sintered devices during operations, and applications such as acetabular cups and knee implants in EOS CobaltChrome MP1. The Italian company ProtoCast developed a new manufacturing process for acetabular cups. These cups have already received CE certification. Furthermore, the symposium also discussed the current status of European funded projects such as Phidias, Customfit and Custom-IMD.
Martin Bullemer, Key Account Manager at EOS, sums up the event: "The Rapid Implant Manufacturing Forum was an ideal platform for an open exchange between different users of layer manufacturing technologies. I am delighted to have learned so much more about the latest developments and am confident that the industry is heading even more towards Rapid Manufacturing, or e-Manufacturing as we put it, within the next 1-2 years."