The NHS turned 70 last week, which is also around the average age people require joint replacements; could additive manufacturing represent the medical industry’s future?

Each year, the NHS uses and replaces hundreds of thousands of hip, knee and spinal implants, with the average life of these implants just 15 years.

With the recent £20bn pledge from the government to boost the NHS, the UK should be looking at other ways the health service could save money.

3D printed metal implants could last longer than regular implants, be more durable and potentially save the medical industry money it so desperately needs.

Ahead of him receiving the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering’s Silver Medal, The Manufacturer sat down with Chris Sutcliffe, Professor at the University of Liverpool, to talk about his 20-year career in the additive manufacturing of orthopedic implants and just how “additive manufacturing will revolutionise the whole orthopedic implant industry”, as he says.

Sutcliffe, who also works as an R&D director for Renishaw, explained his research work with US implant giant Stryker Orthopaedics – a US-based company leading in the medtech industry, with global sales $12.4bn.

He said: “All 3D printing relies on the simplification of a 3D problem to a 2D one, this simplification is the key to creating really complex 3D structures by decomposing the single 3D problem to a sequence of 2D ones.”

He explained that the implants developed are made with a 3D porous surface, which – to the human eye – resembles the structure of bone, adding: “Our implants don’t need screws or adhesives and both the initial fixation straight after implantation and the long term stability are fantastic.”

Why are they different?

The bone is a living material and it remodels itself in the presence of stress, this is why our skeletons are efficient structures with material distributed only where it is needed.

Sutcliffe said: “If you implant a stiff strong material, as in the case of a standard implant, loads [forces] are distributed to the implant and the surrounding bone will remodel itself leading to loosening of the implant.”

This initial loosening leads to a wearing of the implant and further loosening which will eventually result in failure.

Sutcliffe explained the difference between traditional and AM implants: “The 3D printed implant’s surface results in a smooth load transfer between the device and the skeleton, because the 3D porous surface becomes filled with living bone.

By Maddy White | The Manufacturer

Image Credit: Stryker

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