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Printing metals

The process with the most control in which metal structures are fabricated using a programmable laser is termed selective laser melting or SLM.

Structures are built up layer by layer by depositing a thin layer of metal powder, then selectively lasing to achieve the pattern needed in that section. This lasing causes a phase transition in the metal/s; the particles are completely melted for just a fraction of a second, during which they bind to the existing structure below. In contrast, sintering is a slower process in which this binding is based on the principles of atomic diffusion.

Sintering is carried out with metals at lower temperatures and is termed direct metal laser sintering, DMLS, an approach that is exclusive commercially to the company EOS in Munich, Germany. There are a number of manufacturers who are able to provide metal printing solutions with build volumes ranging from 150 cc to in excess of 80,000,000 cc, with larger systems taking up significant amounts of space and requiring additional support services.

The inherent complexity, need for training and price of these systems make it unlikely that they will be available to home users for the foreseeable future.

You will now be aware of the difference between the structural aspects of prosthetics and the regenerative possibilities of implants. The titanium heel implant avoided the need to amputate the patient’s leg which was the only other alternative. Do some research on implants and how they are changing medicine today.

  • What questions did your research raise for you?
  • What are the advantages of 3D printing over machined titanium?

Contribute what you find and comment on other learner’s posts if you find them interesting or challenging or have questions.

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This article is from the free online course:

Bioprinting: 3D Printing Body Parts

University of Wollongong