Dr Maria Pettersson: The general demand for implants is increasing due to a larger portion of the older population and our demand for a higher quality of life as we grow older. Besides that, the demand for implants manufactured with additive technology has steadily increased during the past decade. Even so, additive manufactured implants have been used for a long time. For example, one of the early production customers using the Arcam electron beam melting technology (EBM) is Lima Corporate, which celebrated ten years with EBM-manufactured implants on the market this year.
There are many different reasons why we see implant manufacturers selecting additive manufacturing (AM) for their implants. One of the main drivers in the orthopaedic industries is the need for implants that easily incorporate features such as a porous structure that allows bone ingrowth. Other drivers are the design freedom of novel designs, customisation for patient-specific products, cost reduction, requirements for a different supply chain, the flexibility of short and long product series, lead times or the ability to market an AM product.
Arcam is active on three fronts in the medical implant industry. There is the Arcam EBM division, offering AM solutions such as the EBM systems, which is based in Sweden, the US, the UK, Italy, China and Germany; AP&C, a manufacturer of high-quality metal powder used for AM, and for other powder metallurgy processes such as HIP, which is based in Canada; and DTI, a company based in the US that conducts contract manufacturing of implants. Arcam makes the raw material, supplies AM solutions and related services, and can also manufacture implants through DTI. Furthermore, Arcam itself is a GE Additive company, giving us access to the broad and deep industrial knowledge of GE in our product development.
The EBM process is an AM technology. It is based on powder bed fusion, where a thin layer of powder is distributed, and the electron beam melts specific areas of that layer. The process is conducted layer by layer. The vacuum environment and the hot process used in the EBM process is well suited for use with reactive materials, such as titanium, in order to obtain the required material properties without needing to stress relief the material. As the whole build volume can be used, the approach is cost-effective while allowing short turnaround times.
Arcam offers processes for titanium and cobalt chromium alloys for EBM technology. The technology allows the company to manufacture almost all conductive metals so that, with further development, implants of other alloys can also be manufactured.
For titanium and cobalt chromium, the applications are typically in orthopaedics. Implants include acetabular cups for primary and revision, femoral and tibia knee implants, and shoulder and other joint replacements. Further craniomaxillofacial, augments, spine, trauma and different types of customised implants are also applications that use EBM.
We constantly work to develop our technology and further industrialise the production process, including higher productivity and more materials. It is an exciting time for the medical market and the additive industry. There is fast development and adoption of AM within the medical industry and, at the same time, AM is broadly used and is becoming almost mainstream.