InssTek announces new 3D printing milestones for medical and aerospace applications

Korean metal 3D printing company InssTek has announced a couple of significant milestones achieved with its various Direct Energy Deposition (DED) additive manufacturing technologies. 

InssTek is proficient in Direct Metal Tooling (DMT) technology, having previously deployed it to repair parts of the South Korean Air Force’s F-15K fighter jets. Back in 2016, the company teamed up with Z3DLAB France to offer its customers the best in advanced materials for aerospace parts repair and medical implants. The company’s MX 1000 metal 3D printer was also the crowning glory of the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech)’s Additive Manufacturing Laboratory upon its opening in 2017. 

Now, the company’s technologies have contributed to the fabrication of a 3D printed artificial hip joint that has received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and to the production of a multi-material rocket nozzle for the aerospace sector. 

InssTek's 3D printed rocket nozzle. Image via InnsTek.
InssTek’s 3D printed rocket nozzle. Image via InnsTek.

Receiving FDA approval

The first new development from InssTek is a 3D printed artificial hip joint and cup component, fabricated using its Metal Porous Coating (MPC) technology. MPC is a DED additive manufacturing technique that works by 3D printing patterns of porous structures onto the surface of artificial joints using medical-grade titanium powder.

The method differs from conventional techniques by melting and combining the artificial joint and titanium powders together to form one alloy, of which the optimal roughness and pore structure can be achieved. 

Using its MPC technology, InssTek successfully coated a BENCOX Mirabo Z Cup Cortinium artificial hip joint cup manufactured by Korean artificial limb developer Corentec. The artificial joint has since received FDA approval, prompting InssTek to apply its MPC technology to cobalt-chromium alloys for artificial knee and ankle joints.

The company is currently carrying out further research into how it can leverage MPC for various other industrial applications within the semiconductor and aerospace sectors. 

3D printing has the potential to enable faster and more accurate surgeries, particularly regarding titanium materials that have already been verified for biocompatibility. Just recently, a group of researchers from Korean hospitals carried out a study to verify the effectiveness and safety of 3D printed patient-specific titanium implants on maxillofacial bones, while Health Canada approved its first 3D printed titanium medical implant in December.

3D printing the artificial hip joint with MPC technology. Photo via InnsTek.
3D printing the artificial hip joint with MPC technology. Photo via InnsTek.

Multi-material 3D printing

The second development announced by the firm involves the successful 3D printing of a rocket nozzle for the aerospace sector. 

Due to the extreme environments aerospace parts, and in particular rocket nozzles, operate within, the parts often have several varying requirements. For instance, within a rocket nozzle, the working temperature and heat flow are different in the lower and upper regions of the part and therefore require different materials for optimal performance. 

As a result, there is increased demand within the aerospace sector for the use of different materials in a single part, however binding two different materials together still proves a challenging feat in terms of surface adhesion, weakness, and instability. As a result, many metal 3D printing technologies tend to manufacture parts in a single material, which is where DED-based methods come into their own.

The InssTek team sought to leverage DED to explore how gradually changing the composition of a material could improve its stability and capability to meet the demand of harsher applications. 

To this end, the team deployed its Functionally Graded Material (FGM) technology, a novel DED additive manufacturing technique that combines two materials and gradually alters their composition to produce a multi-material part. 

Crucial to the success of the technique is InssTek’s CVM Powder Feeding System, which is designed to ensure stable powder supply during the metal 3D printing process. The system can monitor powder supply in real-time and is capable of controlling up to six different powders at any one time. 

Using its FGM method, CVM Powder Feeding System and other material processing technologies, InssTek was able to successfully 3D print a scaled rocket nozzle. The success of the project has prompted the firm to continue researching the application of multi-material metal parts to other fields, such as the aerospace, marine, and medical sectors. 

InssTek will be showcasing its new developments, including its MPC technology, at the upcoming IMTS show in Chicago in September and at Formnext in Germany shortly after. 

InnsTek's CVM Powder Feeding System. Photo via InssTek.
InnsTek’s CVM Powder Feeding System. Photo via InssTek.

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Featured image shows InssTek’s 3D printed rocket nozzle. Image via InnsTek.