Orthopaedic industry becomes bio-compatible
Ciaran Dillane, Company Director of Irish tool supplier Premier Machine Tools, talks about global trends and trends in medical technology.
Sixty percent of our business is in orthopaedics – mostly hips and knees – and we work with three of the biggest manufacturers in the world, which have their manufacturing in Ireland. The orthopaedics industry has been growing aggressively for decades, and the rates are expected to be between six and 10 percent for the next few years.
From a manufacturing perspective, one interesting thing happening is the development of the specialized market, where there is a lot of focus on new materials and designs that incorporate bone growth. The combination of those two factors has led towards increased interest in 3D printing, or “additive manufacturing.”
We’ve also seen new interest in tooling at the design stage of orthopaedics, so the implants are being designed with manufacturing in mind.
Interview by Linas Alsenas Illustration by Mika Pollack/AgentMolly
From a tooling perspective, 3D printing makes a lot of people in our industry nervous, because they see finished products being created in near-perfect shape. Personally, I think this is a great opportunity for the industry, because additive manufacturing will require specialist geometries and coatings, with renewed focus on finishing.
The main material used in implants has been cobalt chrome (CoCr), but 15 percent of humans are allergic to the material. So we’ve seen a large move towards titanium and titanium alloys instead, and the implants are designed in such a way that the bone actually grows into the implants; they need to be porous, or honeycombed.
Traditional machining uses oil-based coolants (emulsion-based coolants), which are removed afterwards with cleaning solutions. However, when a material is 60 percent porous, you can see the difficulty in guaranteeing the removal of all the emulsions. “Dry machining” doesn’t use emulsions at all.