Printed revolution

27 February 2017

A 3-D printed composite sternum made of titanium and a synthetic polymer has been successfully implanted into a patient, CSIRO's Lab 22 and Melbourne company Anatomics report.

3-D printing is becoming mainstream, at least when plastic is involved. Nowadays most Australian schools have a printer that allows their students to make their digital design of objects a tangible reality.

But 3-D printing with metals is an entirely different cup of tea. It is much more costly to set up, and especially for smaller companies the investment risk is a major barrier.

Therefore Australian industry has been slow to adopt the new technology, despite its potential for producing custom-made components.

However, through CSIRO's Lab 22 in Melbourne smaller companies can now also take part in the additive manufacturing revolution by lowering the capital investment risk.

CSIRO's $6 million facility has developed world-class expertise in printing titanium components - hence the name Lab 22, which refers to the atomic number 22 of titanium on the periodic table.

Collaborations with industry partners have led to the first 3-D printed bicycle, and the production of individually customised mouthpieces for sleep apnoea patients.

But its most impressive success result from a collaboration with Melbourne based medical device manufacturer Anatomics.

The alliance has created surgical implants such as titanium heel bone, which was used to replace that of a bone cancer patient. And in 2015, a cancer patient in Spain received a customised 3-D printed titanium sternum and rib implant. The success underscored the power of the technology especially for biomedical applications where rapid design and production of a customised product is required.

In a latest development, the CSIRO/Anatomics partnership produced a composite sternum consisting of titanium and a synthetic porous polymer called PoreStar, with the aim  to replace bone, cartilage and tissue in a single prosthetic implant.

And such a sternum replacement, manufactured in Melbourne and modelled to patient CT scans, has now been implanted into an elderly man in Britain, who since has made a successful recovery.

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