Industrial metal 3D printing specialist Z3DLAB has revealed that it’s currently developing “a new generation of materials” with enhanced biocompatibility and potential human implant applications.
Working with a consortium of French CNRS academics, the firm aims to formulate a complex concentrated alloy or ‘CCA,’ with the properties needed to yield improved SLM 3D printed surgical grafts. Over the course of the two-year project, the team says that it’s “confident” of identifying “candidates to replace current materials,” and ultimately intends to validate its approach by prototyping dental implants.
Z3DLAB’s medical credentials
Based in the Parisian commune of Montmagny, Z3DLAB is an advanced materials design firm that’s dedicated to tweaking existing alloys in order to make them compatible with 3D printing. By applying this approach to titanium and zirconia, the company has managed to develop five powders with unique strength, ductility and thermal properties, which it markets to clients such as MBDA, CSIRO and Stryker.
In the past, Z3DLAB has worked closely with EOS to expand on its production capacity, installing an M 290 3D printer at its Korean facility, before opening a new innovation center in the country via its Z3DFAB spin-off in 2018. The complex was set up to help widen Korea’s 3D printing offering, with a particular emphasis on addressing the needs of energy, aerospace and automotive customers.
Alongside its core nano-structured titanium offering, the company has also built up a medical product range, first launching its ZTi-Med for orthopaedic 3D printing, then its DNA Dental line of implants. The latter has demonstrated the ability to achieve 84% bone ‘bone integration,’ and it’s possible that Z3DLAB’s contributions to the CoCoA-Bio project will inform the future R&D of its own product range.
State-backed clinical research
As modern medicine continues to improve, the aging population is only set to rise in future, and this could lead to an increased number of bone disease cases and related accidents. 3D printed bone grafts offer a potential means of meeting this growing demand, but they rely heavily on the properties of the materials used to make them, with biocompatibility being a key factor.
In order to develop a fully-optimized bone graft alloy, CNRS and Z3DLAB have therefore joined the ‘Complex Concentrated Alloys for Bio-implants: Additive Manufacturing and Properties’ project, or ‘CoCoA-Bio.’ Backed by the French National Research Agency (ANR), the program will see the consortium mix molybdenum with tantalum, to produce a unique multicomponent CCA and High Entropy Alloy (HEA) metal.
In practise, the project’s participants intend to begin by optimizing their material’s microstructures via Hot Isostatic Pressing, before proceeding to characterization, mechanical behavior analyses of test parts under loading, and eventually surface functionalization as a means of assessing the alloy’s suitability for specific applications.
Already, the researchers have identified the design and characterization of HEAs as well as their surface functionalization as being “important assets” for achieving CoCoA-Bio’s longer-term goals. Designed to be processable using standard SLM 3D printers, the capabilities of the team’s ‘TiNbZr-X’ alloy will ultimately be exhibited via dental 3D printing, but this isn’t expected to take place until late in the program.
Vying for dental 3D printing’s crown
In the last few years, the dental implant 3D printing industry has become more and more hotly-contested, with firms battling it out to develop resins that deliver better orthodontics than their competitors. Earlier this month, Liqcreate launched its Dental Model Pro Grey and Beige materials, which are specifically designed for producing dental models.
Formlabs also has a strong dental portfolio, and the company supplemented it with the release of its Permanent Crown Resin and a Soft Tissue Starter Pack in December 2020. While the former is being marketed as a means of producing low-cost crowns, the latter is designed to help users create tailored resins that yield more accurate dental models.
At around the same time, Korean photopolymer manufacturer Graphy announced the development of its dental-oriented Tera Harz 3D printing material. As opposed to its prior S Plastic UV resin for producing models and guides, the firm’s latest polymer has been formulated to yield clear aligners with improved ‘technical performance.’
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Featured image shows an SEM image of Z3DLAB’s existing ZTP10 alloy powder. Photo via Z3DLAB.