3D Printing in Space: Metal Printing in µ‐Gravity Shows Promise

3D printing in micro gravity is garnering growing interest from scientists and aerospace engineers—and especially as such activity grows at the International Space Station. German and French researchers explore the topic of printing in microgravity in the recently published, ‘Enabling the 3D Printing of Metal Components in µ‐Gravity.’ Concerned with creating strategies for working and living in space, the research team delves into the possible challenges of additive manufacturing in metal—with little gravity.

Additive manufacturing has been a boon to many different companies and organizations around the world, but especially the aerospace sector and NASA. Because creating spare parts can be so expensive and so challenging, 3D printing and AM processes are enticing with benefits like exponentially greater affordability, speed in production, and more, including the integration of robots.

In this study, the researchers aimed to create metal parts in space from 1 to 500mm. Larger structures could be created too, allowing for almost all parts on a spacecraft to be fabricated via laser beam melting (LBM), and in a wide range of materials—from titanium to nickel-based alloys.

LBM technology is currently being used in many different applications, including:

  • Automotive
  • Aerospace
  • Tool manufacturing
  • Medical

“The selection of LBM as a process for fabricating aerospace components was primarily based on the weight ratio between the raw material required for machining a component and the weight of the component itself. For conventional fabrication technologies, this ‘buy‐to‐fly’ ratio can be as high as 15–20 for flying components, adding a lot of cost to the component for material and machining,” state the researchers.

Offering a buy-to-fly ratio of almost 1, LBM processes offer a list of benefits, beginning with the fact that parts can be manufactured in nearly any shape, created from powder that results in little waste, if any. Dealing with spare parts is key—especially today at the ISS, where in the past shipments have been known to fail due to unsuccessful launches.

“Even losing a tool in the station or during a spacewalk may be problematic for astronauts and mission,” state the researchers. “Despite careful tracking, in average roughly two percent of all spare parts in the ISS, summing up to about 2000 components, are at any time lost.”

3D printing is the logical choice as 3D files can be sent via email for parts to be created on demand and on site. With a ‘virtual tool-box’ to work from, as well as relying on files sent from Earth, astronauts could see their jobs more streamlined in the future—and especially if they are living as far away as Mars where resupply missions are rare or impossible. Much of this depends on success in microgravity manufacturing, however, along with the requirements for 3D printers and materials to be sent along with the crew.

Time needed to reach the ISS, Moon, and Mars as function of their distance to Earth. The values for the required travel times to reach a respective object are based on literature values for different flight trajectories and maneuvers. The Earth–Moon distance considered is at the perigee; for the Earth–Mars distance, filled symbols show the average minimum distance, which is reached every ≈26 months. Open symbols show the maximum distance Earth–Mars and hypothetical flight time, although it is to be expected that flight missions are and will be feasible only when Mars is close to its minimum distance.

Currently, the ISS uses an FM 3D printer that was quite famously delivered by Made in Space. The astronauts have also quite famously fabricated numerous 3D printed parts, mainly in the form of tools, with a wrench being their first success. And while that has been an enormous achievement, the FDM printer may be too basic for their expanding needs in the future, with a priority on functionality.

Schematic of the powder deposition unit. The area of the porous building platform for the powder deposition was 106.5 × 85.5 mm2.

“Laser‐based AM in particular would enable the fabrication of high‐performance metals and thermoplastic polymers in space,” state the researchers.

While powder has previously been eschewed as too difficult for production in space, the research team explains that new advances could make LBM processes suitable for the in µ‐g environment now, using a technique that could stabilize powder in space by creating a flow of gas throughout the powder bed. A porous building platform is used as a filter for ‘fixation of metal particles in a gas flow.’

Drag force Fd and gravitational force Fg compared for stainless steel spheres at different acceleration values and for different particle sizes

“It could be shown, that the drag forces provided by the gas flow are comparable or even exceeding the forces acting on the particles in µ‐g acceleration conditions (<0.01 g) for particles with a diameter of 38 µm (which is the D50 of the powder used in this work),” concluded the researchers.

“In this study, the worldwide first metallic tool, a 12 mm wrench has been manufactured by LBM at µ‐g conditions. Moreover, other parts have been manufactured at different accelerations provided by a parabolic flight, that is, hyper gravity (1.8 g), µ‐g (<0.01 g), and 1 g. In a first survey of the parts microstructure, no significant deviations from a part manufactured at 1 g conditions have been found. Hence, the current work has presented the first results on the feasibility of an LBM process for additively manufactured ready to use metal parts in space.”

Specimens manufactured in different g conditions, top view, and inclined side‐view; left: 1 g; right: µ‐g.

Metal 3D printing encompasses many different techniques today aside from that of space, and for a wide variety of different industrial purposes—and with many different types of powders and materials that are being continually still being experimented with here on Earth, from ceramic to nanocomposites to copper.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

Schematic of an airplane flying a maneuver defined as “parabola.” The airplane image is courtesy of Novespace.

a) Top view of the deposition chamber, showing the laser scanner and optics, two oxygen sensors, two pressure gauges, and two overpressure safety valves b) view of the deposition unit during cleaning after a parabolic flight, showing the wrenches produced by LBM still partially embedded in the powder bed c) top view of the porous metal base plate and of the wrenches manufactured in µ‐gravity d) 12 mm wrench manufactured in µ‐gravity, after separation from the base plate. The base plate has a size of 106.5 × 85.5 mm2.

[Source / Images: ‘Enabling the 3D Printing of Metal Components in µ‐Gravity’]



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Admatec Releases Industrial Monitoring System for Ceramic & Metal 3D Printing

Dutch-based Admatec has just announced the release of a monitoring system for advanced industrial ceramic and metal additive manufacturing, offering a bevy of features that should catch the attention of many users engaged in applications for areas like biomedical, aerospace, aesthetics, and more. The launch details new advantages like:

  • Full documentation and traceability
  • Capabilities geared toward highly demanding industries
  • Layer detection
  • Foil movement
  • Time-lapse videos

Used with the Admatec Admaflex 130 3D printer (and materials to include Alumina, Zirconia, and Fused Silica, and metal such as 316L, 17-4-PH, Inconel 625 and Copper), the monitoring system allows the operator to view the print process and record it on a layer-by-layer process:

“For example, if a build platform would print 180 products with just one failing during the process, the monitoring system will detect this and proceed with the other 179 parts to finalize successfully. Whereas with a more traditional approach like VAT this would mean the full run has instantly failed,” states the Admatec team in their latest press release.

In series production, users are able to ‘upscale’ without tooling and make changes quickly to important features like size, materials, and shape and structure. The integrated DLP light engine offers users the ability to perform large surface printing, with precision and resolution, also manufacturing small, detailed parts. Ceramic materials, known to be ‘superior,’ can still be challenging to work with. In 3D printing, this material acts as the catalyst for designing parts and prototypes that would not have been possible otherwise. This is a common benefit of 3D printing and additive manufacturing, along with offering a route to bring obsolete parts back to life too once they have been scanned.

Commercially launched in 2016, many Admaflex 130 3D printers have been installed around the world, also resulting in valuable customer feedback, allowing Admatec’s research and development group to create stronger products—with a focus on a customized approach. Admatec customers have the luxury of choosing options, creating a tailor-made 3D printer and choosing features to assist in high print quality, speed, and even an add-on for printing in metal, along with the vision-based monitoring system.

“We are constantly working to improve not only with new hardware and material development but also in functionality and productivity. Through software updates that aim at benefiting our existing customer base while improving the efficiency of the technology,” stated Admatec COO, Jaco Saurwalt.

Admatec sees the potential for both ceramic and metal to have enormous impacts on a variety of industries, especially with the ability to cut costs and offer flexibility and the path to upscale production.

“We are witnessing a gradual change in ceramic AM, from being used mostly as a research and development tool to an actual production method, especially for investment casting and aesthetic applications,” says Nadia Yaakoubi, business developer at Admatec.

3D printing in both ceramics and metal is becoming increasingly popular from creating titanium matrix composites to 3D printed robots and even glass ceramics. What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

[Source / Images: Admatec]

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CeramicSpeed Collaborates with DTI for 3D Printed Bike Part

Germany’s SLM Solutions was a major catalyst recently in expanding manufacturing for a specific 3D printed bicycle part designed by CeramicSpeed, a Danish cycling company working in cooperation with selective laser melting experts Danish Technological Institute. Partnering to improve performance in cycling, the innovators worked together to create a durable titanium pulley wheel.

Testing this new part in this year’s Tour de France, the group of innovators found that the part was both road- and race-worthy. This is not CeramicSpeed’s first revolutionary part, however, as they continue to make a difference in professional cycling with components like ceramic bearings. In working with DTI, they can produce their parts on either a quad-laser SLM®500 or twin SLM®280 system.

“3D printing technology has given us a lot of leeway to experiment creatively with design, while at the same time being able to optimize a product’s function,” Carsten Ebbesen, R&D Manager at CeramicSpeed stated. “The collaboration with DTI has led us to develop and produce gears in a radically new design form that is only possible with 3D printing.”

All the classic benefits of 3D printing can be put to use in fabrication of bicycles and bicycle parts, not only because of affordability and speed in production, but also the ability to produce extremely lightweight components—some of which may not have been possible before, as in the creation of the pulleys, made with 17 spokes, a 2 mm diameter, and a wall thickness of only 0.4 mm. The developers state that with the hollow design, they have even been able to reduce the sprocket weight to 8.4 grams.

“The hollow geometry of the objects cannot be produced with conventional methods, and the 3D printing in combination with subsequent specialized processes leads to a unique innovative product,” said Thor Bramsen, Industrialization Manager at the Danish Technological Institute.

The new gears produced in this project have passed rigorous testing also, proving their quality—along with offering great durability, corrosion resistance, and low-density strength. Wear is a central focus as the pulley wheels are attached to the outer gears. Titanium was chosen as the ultimate material for these complex structures due to its mechanical properties.

Quality parts are built in serial production at DTI, as a result of a coordinated process chain relying on SLM Solutions AM hardware, which included remaining true to the client’s design, adding material for areas in need of CNC machining, and both optimizing support and minimizing the wall diameter and weight. DTI was put to the test during the project, with their team using their entire range of manufacturing knowledge from the beginning—and ending only at the time of delivery.

As a supplier and partner in metal AM manufacturing, SLM Solutions offers a vested interest in customers’ long-term success with metal additive manufacturing. A publicly traded company, SLM Solutions Group AG is headquartered in Germany with offices in France, Italy, the United States, Singapore, Russia, India and China.

As 3D printing makes an impact in nearly every industry today, bikes are no exception, and especially as users are availed of the ability to make their own modifications with frame components, 3D printed airless tires, and even entirely 3D printed bicycle bridges. What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

[Source / Images: SLM Solutions]

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VELO3D’s Metal Printer Tackles Design and Build Limitations

After working under the radar for many years, California-based VELO3D finally emerged as one of the most promising startups in August 2018 with the release of its Sapphire metal 3D printer. The company developed a metal printing process with more design freedom in metal, able to print complex geometries below 45 degrees, and reduce part costs by 30 to 70 percent, which would make more 3D printed parts possible. Based on the company’s Intelligent Fusion technology, the system comes with fewer constraints than other printers, becoming the only metal laser system with support-free capability and an end-to-end integrated workflow, which many consider will change metal 3D printing forever. 

Brian Spink

Now, thanks to a free webinar hosted this month by the company’s Applications Engineering Manager, Brian Spink, the firm is taking metal 3D printing engineers and specialists through the design process for VELO3D’s Sapphire System, discussing the considerations to keep in mind when selecting parts for their printer, including a deep understanding of angle and floating geometry guidelines, as well as their advanced non-contact recoater mechanism (a truly revolutionary invention).


“Designing parts for VELO3D‘s Sapphire printer has fewer restrictions than other systems. In fact, you may not need to redesign your parts at all since the technology can print support-free in a wider range of geometries and has overcome the 45-degree rule, with a first print success rate of 90 percent, and parts that meet and exceed metal manufacturing density requirements over 99.9 percent,” suggests Spink,

VELO3D‘s Sapphire printer is a next-generation laser fusion metal AM system designed for advanced 3D metal printing. While conventional 3D printing systems often require supports for any geometry below 45 degrees, VELO3D’s Sapphire uniquely enables engineers to realize designs with overhangs lower than 10 degrees, and large inner tubes up to 40 mm without supports. Some applications can even be printed free-floating in the powder bed, built layer by layer in Inconel 718 (IN718) or Titanium alloy (Ti6Al4V), using two powerful kW lasers and a patented non-contact recoater. The technology is designed from the ground up with high volume manufacturing in mind featuring a 315 mm diameter by 400 mm height build envelope. Additionally, and to maximize productivity, Sapphire also features integrated in-situ process metrology that enables first-of-a-kind closed loop melt pool control.

Sapphire laser fusion system

The development is truly a game-changer. Users typically had to go through an iterative redesign process in order to make parts that are suitable for additive manufacturing, meaning an extra design effort. During the webinar, the expert explained that there is no support needed for overhangs over 15 degrees for both materials: Inconel and Titanium. Usually, supports have to be designed up-front in order to keep the parts from warping, and then, once the part is built, they have to be removed, which leads to costly post-processing.

“In general, the way people address residual stress along the part is to just add support material. Supports help, but they are not the only way to build and they also introduce other issues, such as restraining or anchoring the part down to keep it from warping up and also acts as energy sync,” he said. “There are major drawbacks to these supports which is why VELO3D does not want to include them, allowing for some unique processes to run through,” Spink went on.

VELO 3D controls the thermal/mechanical behavior of the geometry through proprietary hardware and advanced process controls. The system recognizes many more unique geometries, especially using angle based rules to apply unique processes to the geometries, to avert more control and have a fuller experience without breaking down. 

“Another added level of control that VELO3D has introduced is a closer control for certain process parameters. We have a couple of sensors that monitor the melt pool in real time, and using this data we can recreate a close loop that can adjust the laser parameters–also in real time–to help control the consistency of the melt pool and avoid breakdowns.”

A heat exchanger made in Inconel

“In some of these cases, we are taking something that couldn’s be done with any other AM process and enabling it on the VELO3D system, such as with dome closures where internal cavities have manifold type geometries that can be printed using the firm’s technology without adding support.”

According to Spink, being able to print the feature without supports is highly dependent on the angle normal to the surface, but also on other driving factors that determine angle-based rules, including the curvature of the leading-edge of growth of the part, the number of layers the geometric feature propagates, the laser angle of incidence relative to the angle of growth, and other local geometric characteristics that affect how the energy is being absorbed and how the melt pool is behaving locally.

“Every geometry is unique so its hard to generalize an exact rule for an infinite amount of parts, this is why we are attempting to give the users a couple of proxies and a handfull of rules on simple geometries so that they may interpolate them on other geometries they are experiencing with.”

The specialist explained how to deal with plane and conical geometrical shapes, suggesting, via a “Probability of Breakdown” graph, whether and when the geometry needs to be constrained. The angle guidelines for the conical shapes–which are simple proxy– reveal that an outward growing conical surface (convex) has a higher probability of breakdown once it goes above a full height of 5 mm, meaning it is quite risky, and at 10 mm it behaves at very high risk. Spink suggests that in this cases two basic forces are working together that may lead to breakdowns: global residual stress which is shrinking each layer by pulling the geometry inward towards the local mass, and the other is a skin process that forms a ring around the geometry that contracts and wants to pull it inward. 

Otherwise, an inward growing conical surface (concave) geometry at a 10-degree angle is very stable and does not require support because the probability of breakdown is very low.

Example: strut and impeller mock up

To better understand how conical geometries work in VELO3D, Spink suggests looking into a strut and impeller example, which has a critical internal flow path when it is oriented in an outward growing conical shape (convex) and if it is not supported, there is a high risk of breakdown. This conical shape is going to behave pretty unfavorably and put the user at a higher risk when he or she avoids adding supports. So by flipping it into a concave conical shape, the relatively high-risk downfacing surface keeps the same angle range but the general shape is an inward growing conical one that can maintain stability and avoid breakdowns in the process without having to add supports. 

VELO3D systems also have the ability to print floating parts, which means they are not attached to the build plate at all or any other surface in the build volume, which means no added support material.

“The build starts in powder and the main enabler here, aside from the process control, is the unique non-contact recoater mechanism (which applies a fresh layer of powder on the print bed, making it ready for a pass by the lasers for selective fusing). Because there is no interference between the part, which is now floating loose in the powder, you will find it very rewarding to open a build chamber and simply reach in to pull the part out, without having to remove any support material attached to it,” Spink explained.

There are a few rules for the floating geometries. They must originate from a small-cross section or point of geometry, meaning you can’t print a large flat plane because there will still be residual stress even with VELO3D’s unique processes. And the second main rule is that there must be one powder start and no connection with the build plate. 

VELO3D still has a strong process development team working on ongoing research and development, especially regarding stability on existing processes and spearheading other efforts, but most experts agree that the powerful 3D metal printing technology they have developed is groundbreaking. As you can see in the VELO3D images and videos, there is a lot of detail and accuracy in the geometries. These capabilities mean that the Sapphire System can now print objects that were impossible on other 3D printing systems. VELO3D says they can even achieve a 500:1 aspect ratio on structures, as opposed to the more typical 10:1 ratio on competing systems (or even less 4:1 or 5:1 on other powder bed fusion machines), but you should probably try it out for yourself and see what it is all about.

[Images: VELO3D]

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Characterizations & Comparisons of Virgin and Recycled Metallic 3D Printing Powders

Authors N.E. Gorji, R. O’Connor, and D. Brabazon are studying metal powders in the recently published ‘XPS, XRD, and SEM characterization of the virgin and recycled metallic powders for 3D printing applications.’ Recycling continues to be an ongoing topic in the 3D printing realm as so much material is being consumed and then often discarded due to defects or other structural problems. And while obviously there is a push to re-use as much material as possible—reducing the footprint of manufacturing processes around the world—quality, performance, and functionality are key too.

SEM images are taken from both virgin (left) and recycled (right) powders.

SEM images from the recycled powder (in 20 m and 10 m zoom) indicating the elongated particles, satellites on the surface, spatter, bonded particles and particles with irregular shapes.

For this study, the authors used virgin feedstock and recycled stainless steel 316L for selective laser melting processes. Characterizing surface and microstructure of both powders, the researchers used X-ray photoemission spectroscopy (XPS), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), X-ray diffraction (XRD) and rheology analysis. Along with examining and comparing both types of powder, the researchers also considered using virgin powder as an additive if recycled powders required further mechanical strength.

Characterization studies were offered for both to make certain they were reproducible, with SEM results showing a slight difference in powder after the SLM process, recycled powder showing more satellite on the surface, with more contamination. Bonded particles were also found in the recycled powder, with some deformed particles.

“Several features are observed in the recycled powders such as elongated particles, satellites on surface, spatter, bonded particles and particles with irregular shapes,” said the researchers. “Overall, the morphology of the recycled powder shows insignificant changes. However, XPS characterization can better reveal the presence of various elements on the surface of the powders especially on the recycled powder.”

The XPS measurements on both virgin (top) and recycled (bottom) powders.

XRD analysis of virgin and recycled powders.

Oxygen levels increased, per XPS measurements from 27.04% to 34.19%, with uptake dependent on powder production. Carbon was reduced from 56% to 45.55%, possibly due to domination of metallic oxides on the surface. The researchers point out that some metal powder, possessing more electronegativity to oxygen, could spread to the outer surface of the powder—thus absorbing oxygen during SLM.

“The presence of heavy metals on the surface such as Ge (5.22%) and Sb (2.86%) is also surprising and is under further examinations,” stated the researchers, going on to recommend mixing virgin powder with the reused powder after five cycles.

“The SEM images show more satellites on recycled powders and XPS measurements show that the metal oxides are slightly increasing on its surface as well. Oxygen is showing the most increment on surface increasing from 27.04% to 34.19%,” concluded the researchers. “The XRD result show no change on the phase of the recycled austenitic stainless steel compared to virgin powder. There are no additional ferritic BCC peaks on recycled powder indicating a low contamination and phase change after SLM process. “

As the study of materials continues to progress in 3D printing, researchers have put enormous focus on metal—from copper to titanium to metal-polymers. What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

[Source / Images: ‘XPS, XRD, and SEM characterization of the virgin and recycled metallic powders for 3D printing applications’]




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Arcam EBM Center of Excellence: GE Additive Expands Additive Manufacturing Site by Three Times

If you had any questions regarding a potential slow down in 3D printing or additive manufacturing endeavors around the world, industry leaders like GE Additive should put those to rest, evidenced by a momentum that just doesn’t quit. Now, they are announcing the opening of another facility dedicated to AM, at the Arcam EBM Center of Excellence in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Featuring 15,000 square meters, the new site is centered in the Mölnlycke Business Park, within the Härryda municipality, southeast of Gothenburg. Up to 500 employees are expected to be working at the center, offering three times as much floor space as their previous building in Mölndal—and housing all production, research and development, and training and support divisions in one place.

GE Additive will now be able to place an even stronger focus on lean manufacturing, maximizing operations and production capacity, along with inviting more of their customers to learn about and make the transition to serial manufacturing with Arcam EBM systems. The plan is to continue expanding their ‘footprint’ in manufacturing, along with increasing research and development in both Europe and the US.

Today, GE Additive is comprised of Arcam EBM, Concept Laser, and additive material provider AP&C. Their highly integrated team is made up of experts in additive manufacturing, offering advanced technology and materials—all encouraging the clients they work with to strive for innovation within their industries, focusing on:

  • Solving manufacturing challenges
  • Improving business outcomes
  • Helping change the world for the better

“The Arcam EBM team in Gothenburg is energized to be in its new home—a dynamic, sustainable workplace—in a great location.  We will harness that energy and continue to research, innovate and drive EBM technology further,” said Karl Lindblom, general manager GE Additive Arcam EBM.

“Throughout, we have benefited immensely from GE’s experience and know-how in applying lean manufacturing. Customers joining our annual user group meeting next month will be the first to see our Center of Excellence—which we hope will become a focal point for the entire additive industry,” added Lindblom.

Both GE Additive and Arcam EBM continue to contribute innovations to both the 3D printing and additive manufacturing realm, from opening a variety of new facilities around the world to working with others in many projects, ranging from development of combat vehicles to 3D printed high fashion, and much more, including accelerating the industry with other partnerships.

Established in 1997, Arcam AB began working with EBM 3D printing technology and delivered their first system in 2003. Just acquired by GE Additive in 2017, they have made huge strides in strengthening their offerings with EBM, along with offering metal part production in volume—and a technology that promotes latitude in design, strong material properties, and stacking ability.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

The new Arcam EBM facility interior

[Source / Images: GE Additive]

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UK Heart Patient Undergoes Rare Surgery for 3D Printed Titanium Sternum

A Fleetwood, Lancashire woman in the UK is enjoying better health today, able to perform daily tasks at home, not flinching when she coughs or sneezes—but best of all, she is now able to hug her one-year-old granddaughter. All this progress is due to a 3D printed implant fitted and inserted by surgeon, Dr. Ehab Bishay, at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

The 52-year-old patient, Linda Edwards, had been suffering for years with angina, but even after surgery, she suffered further complications as her breastbone became extremely fragile.

After her chest plate collapsed twice post-surgery, it was obvious another solution was needed—but without anything to attach another metal plate to, her previous doctors were running out of options; however, Linda had watched a documentary featuring Dr. Bishay’s work, and she made contact with him after finding him on social media.

Although she was told she would need to ‘apply’ to have the surgery both for funding and to be cleared for the operation, she steadfastly did so and waited two years to have her 3D printed sternum implanted by Dr. Bishay—making her case the third in Britain (and fifth internationally) to undergo such a procedure.

Scan shows Ms Edwards’ ‘collapsed’ sternum before she underwent the operation

“I woke up from the operation feeling terrible and, at one point, I thought I had died, but I am feeling better every day,” she said, also mentioning that the doctors told her to take it easy and even joked with her about not falling over because she had so much money’s worth of metal in her body to protect now.

“I still feel numb because I am on a lot of drugs, but the main thing is my ribcage doesn’t keep shifting about,” explained Linda. “It feels incredible I have had an operation as advanced as this. I feel like I’ve got my life back.”

“It’s priceless. I can hold my granddaughter and that’s the best feeling in the world.”


Dr. Bishay and his team were able to open Linda’s chest again while being careful to avoid any trauma to the previous bypass area or her heart.

“It’s fantastic to see Mrs. Edwards is doing extraordinarily well given the complexity of the procedure she has undergone,” said Dr. Bishay. “My team and I removed Mrs. Edward’s original breastbone and inserted the custom-built prosthesis.”

“The plastic surgery team, led by Mr. Haitham Khalil, harvested several muscle flaps to cover all the extensive components of the prosthesis, a fundamental step in this operation,” continued Dr. Bishay. “Fortunately, complications such as those experienced by Mrs. Edward’s following previous heart surgery are rare but are notoriously difficult to manage.”

While 3D printing is an amazing technology spawning countless, fascinating inventions, we would still be going a bit far to say such processes have changed the world; they have, however, changed the lives of many patients already, worldwide—with some receiving chest implants and titanium 3D printed sternums, and even composite sternums and rib cages. What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.


Linda Edwards, and her granddaughter, Sienna

[Source / Images: Daily Mail]

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Nexxt Spine Receives FDA 510(k) Clearance for 3D Printed Stand Alone Cervical Implants

Medical device company Nexxt Spine, founded in Indiana ten years ago, manufactures its own product line of spinal implants and instrumentation. This month, the company announced that its NEXXT MATRIXX Stand Alone Cervical System has officially received 510(k) clearance from the FDA.

Nexxt Spine first invested in metal 3D printing in 2017 – specifically the Concept Laser technology from GE Additive. The company increased its investment in GE Additive’s metal AM technology this spring with the installation of its fourth and fifth Mlab 100R systems, and also uses Concept Laser’s metal 3D printing to create this latest anticipated line extension of its NEXXT MATRIXX family.

NEXXT MATRIXX Stand Alone Cervical System

The Stand Alone Cervical System includes the surgeon-friendly precision, and excellent design qualities, that are part and parcel of the company’s NEXXT MATRIXX brand of 3D printed porous titanium interbodies.

This particular system is fabricated on GE Additive’s Mlab 3D printer. It is available in multiple screws and footprints, and ensures one-step locking, in addition to several options for drills and inserters as well.

“The NEXXT MATRIXX® Stand Alone Cervical System is a stand-alone anterior cervical interbody fusion system intended for use as an adjunct to fusion at one or two contiguous levels (C2-T1) in skeletally mature patients for the treatment of degenerative disc disease (defined as discogenic neck pain with degeneration of the disc confirmed by history and radiographic studies). These patients should have received at least six weeks of non-operative treatment prior to treatment with the device,” a brochure about the system states. “The NEXXT MATRIXX® Stand Alone Cervical System is to be used with autograft bone graft and/or allogeneic bone graft composed of cancellous and/or corticocancellous bone and implanted via an open, anterior approach. The NEXXT MATRIXX® Stand Alone Cervical System is intended to be used with the bone screw fixation provided and requires no additional fixation.”

Nexxt Spine is known for combining quality manufacturing with design expertise to create high quality spinal products with unique features. Now, the company can achieve bone biology relevance, cellular scaffolding, and tailored surface topography in one, which is why it is so pleased to introduced its Stand Alone Cervical System to the market.

The system marries the benefits and functionality of a cervical interbody and anterior cervical plate into one product. Designed to reduce the amount of soft tissue damage and irritation, these 3D printed cervical implants come in multiple footprints and heights in order to better fit each individual patient.

“This enhancement of the NEXXT MATRIXX portfolio was the next natural progression for Nexxt Spine. With patient care always top of mind, we strive to develop end products that surgeons prefer and hardware patients can count on. Our Stand Alone Cervical is no exception and will showcase the propensity of NEXXT MATRIXX technology to facilitate the body’s natural power of cellular healing for fortified fusion,” said Nexxt Spine President Andy Elsbury.

Current distributor partners of Nexxt Spine can now pre-order the NEXXT MATRIXX Stand Alone Cervical System.

What do you think? Discuss this story and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below. 

[Images: Nexxt Spine]

The post Nexxt Spine Receives FDA 510(k) Clearance for 3D Printed Stand Alone Cervical Implants appeared first on 3DPrint.com | The Voice of 3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing.

Markforged Demonstrating its Blacksmith AI

Accuracy in Additive Manufacturing (AM), from the CAD design to the printing process, is not always easy to deliver. Companies are working hard at trying to ensure consistency and repeatability throughout the entire manufacturing process since today much more is required of AM systems who need to turn out functional goods that can meet traditional manufacturing standards while being cost-effective in order to be even more competitive. Some common 3D printing problems arise on the way to achieving the desired original design, so before a 3D printed metal part leaves the factory, it has probably undergone some kind of post-processing to smooth and perfect the surface. For example, if Direct Energy Deposition (DED) metal 3D printing was used, this typically produces near-net-shape parts that must be CNC machined, but other forms of AM also require some type of smoothing close to the end. And even when all that is done, the part might not fit or work as originally intended. In some cases, parts are predeformed in order to compensate for inaccuracies during the process. All this basically means that engineers and specialists will need to go back to review the CAD design and processes, which take up a lot of time, and sometimes the problems can’t even be corrected, so the item being produced is good for scrap, which also means money lost.

With new software being commercially released later this year, Markforged promises to help companies struggling to accurately 3D print parts. Blacksmith AI is a new tool which automatically adjusts programming to ensure accurate additive production, which the company claims will enable more agile design, process adjustment and more dependable manufacturing. The software is said to create a continuous feedback loop to produce each 3D printed part as it has been designed in the CAD stage, cutting waste and reducing time to market in the process. In short, the design is analyzed, compared to scans of the part, and then the process is automatically modified to build the part as it was originally intended. Blacksmith is also a continuous learning platform, adapting to changes during the process throughout the use of the production machine, and even using cloud-based technologies that enable the connection of all the machines using it in factories around the world, meaning Blacksmith can learn at the speed of global production.

Last May, 3DPrint.com spoke to Markforged founder Greg Mark about AI and he highlighted that “our machine learning software is letting the machine rewrite its own code”, so that “the machine can now improve itself”, letting manufacturers create dependable parts the first time, every time.

Markforged, a supplier of metal and carbon fiber AM systems, headquartered in Watertown, Massachusetts, recently hosted a live webinar to introduce Blacksmith, stating that it is the first artificial intelligence-powered software that makes manufacturing systems ‘aware’, enabling them to automatically adjust programming to ensure every part is produced as designed. Vice President of Product Jon Reilly explained how Blacksmith works and fits into adaptive manufacturing. 

Markforged at the Rapid + TCT 2019 show

“Generally, 3D printers are far more repeatable than they are accurate. This is true with our plastic printers, our metal printers and basically with any printer that exists. That is just because there are errors that come in the toolpathing, but the printers can usually repeat the toolpath. Here, we are converging the actual accuracy of our parts towards the repeatability, so it would work in any printer, in any system that does this automatically, we are just trying to converge to our highest possible amount of accuracy,” suggested Reilly.

Jon Reilly, VP of Product at Markforged (Photo: Sarah Goehrke)

“We have been working with the software at predictively sintering or predictively scaling a part to make it more accurate, but its really hard because across a wide range of geometries, parts sinter and shrink in different ways, so this (Blacksmith) is the solution that actually nails that problem. Any sintering process, even metal injection moulding, goes through the same iterations because you have the same problem with getting accurate, but they are then incredibly repeatable,” he continued.

So, what does Blacksmith do? It 3D scans the part, then uploads the scan data to the system, automatically alters toolpaths without the engineer having to take any actions, and finally adapts each iteration. With a continuous feedback loop, Blacksmith learns from previous part production so parts become more accurate and precise with each print.

Blacksmith AI at work

Traditionally 3D printing of metal parts goes through the CAD design stage, then it is uploaded to a software that will automatically generate the 3D printing toolpath, and finally the printed part, which Reilly stated that in many cases its about 20 percent larger than the expected final outcome, which is usually compensated with washing and sintering to reduce the remaining metal powder. But then “the final metal part is probably not exactly CAD intent” so this means that “the system as a whole has no idea it doesn’t fit until the engineer tries to install that part in the application designed”. The expert stated that “if you have to change something, you have to go all the way back to the CAD board”. 

“All of a sudden, it does become menacing, because when you have to alter part dimensions to compensate for a print error, the CAD rework is labor and time-intensive. Which is why we thought about a new way to get around this which didn’t involve unit tests (printing small portions of a part), measuring the part afterward and adjusting the dimensions, or post machine parts because altering CAD has unintended consequences. So we started thinking about closed-loop systems and the basis of Blacksmith is that we are going to connect the 3D printers from Markforged with the inspection equipment that the company already has, and use AI to automatically adapt the design to be closer to the CAD intent so that the next print is better,” explained Reilly.

During the webinar, Reilly attempted a demonstration using Blacksmith and the first iteration of a wrench which had been 3D printed inaccurately and needed adjustments. After dropping the wrench into the fixture, Reilly grasped the scanning arm by the grip and released it from its rest position, which he connected via the API to do three quick fixture registration points and then simply started scanning the part, the Blacksmith software smartly knows what the part and fixture are, and appears to be intelligent so that when Reilly placed his hand under the scan, the fingers didn’t show up on it. After three attempts, he gets the complete scan of the part and a map showing its geometry with all the associated data points, lined out in different colors showing whether the parts are accurate or not. The software will automatically detect the areas that are not appropriate with what was intended in the CAD design (in red) and automatically adjust that part so that next time, it will come out right. 

Jon Reilly scans the piece during the Markforged webinar

“Blacksmith effectively automates the alteration of the CAD intent, since Blacksmith reslices parts for you, leaving the CAD design as the ‘ground source of truth’. Eventually, because it is learning every part that it scans and every adjustment that it has to make, it will start automatically adjusting so that the number of iterations to get to a perfect part go from three (which is where we are at today) to just one, and ultimately the first time you print it will be exactly as you intend it.”

Using Blacksmith AI software to detect mistakes in the wrench iteration during the webinar

The firm asserts that AI will reinvent the process completely to improve the way machines work and adaptive manufacturing will generate toolpaths based on previously inspected parts, boosting throughput and accuracy. They consider there are a few changes Blacksmith will make when it comes to adaptive manufacturing:

  1. Using Blacksmith suggests there will be a lot less waste because the process won’t drift out of the intended spec and avoid making parts that cant be used without human intervention. 
  2. Blacksmith will lower parts costs globally saving money for manufacturers and consumers because there will be less waste, higher yields, and efficiency with more predictable part outcomes.
  3. Blacksmith will usher in a new era in 3D printing metal by predicting and compensating for the variability introduced with the sintering process. Every time a part is printed and sintered, Blacksmith learns more about how 3D printed metal is made and applies that learning to every future print.
  4. Blacksmith will combine AI and cloud-based technologies for all manufacturing, not just 3D printing meaning that eventually, Blacksmith might be able to tell you what works and what doesn’t work in 3D printing.

Set to be released later this year, Blacksmith will initially work only with Markforged Metal X and X7 3D printing systems, but the long-term goal is to make it compatible with all manufacturing machinery. In 2020 Blacksmith, could also be available to CNC machining and other manufacturing processes. It is also likely that some subscription might be associated with Blacksmith, but no announcements will be made just yet.

Reilly noted that there will be a lot of options in Blacksmith that control the mechanical process and all of the information will feed into the AI and will be adjustable over time.

“After what we believe will be a short period of time, AI will be intelligent enough to automatically adapt across a wide range of geometries it hasn’t seen before to create the part that we are trying to make. Blacksmith is getting its data from all of the people who are uploading their information to the cloud to take advantage of the collective learning (this can be turned off if for some reason the company doesn’t want to share the data). Also, since we assume your CAD is the source of the design intent, and we want to keep that, the changes won’t go into CAD, just to the machines actually producing the parts, so that the machines are actually the ones that learn and adapt,” he concluded.

Markforged distinguishes itself from other metal 3D printer manufacturers by putting out entire lines of systems with an X3, X5 and X7 on the market and building machines based on the company’s proprietary Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing (ADAM) technology. The company recently sold over 100 metal X2 printers, and has been a big hit in some of the major trade shows in the United States, like CES 2018 and RAPID + TCT. Their cloud-connected industrial 3D printers are used by NASA, Google, Ford, Amazon, Siemens and many more companies in 50 countries to produce same-day prototypes and stronger end-use parts. 

We still need to wait for Blacksmith to come out, but if we think about the meaning of the term Blacksmith, which goes way back over 10 centuries, it was one of the most important trades, often seen as respected artisans, their ability to ‘conjure’ objects and weaponry from crude iron ore was regarded in much the same light as the revered alchemists. So if blacksmiths used to be known as the kings of all trades because of their ability to create tools, perhaps the vision at Markforged will follow that path and beyond, helping companies find precision and mastery, in manufacturing. 

The post Markforged Demonstrating its Blacksmith AI appeared first on 3DPrint.com | The Voice of 3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing.

Aidro Hydraulics & EOS Highlighting AM Processes for the Oil & Gas Industry

In a recent collaboration involving the realm of oil and gas, Italy’s Aidro Hydraulics & 3D Printing and EOS are working to raise awareness regarding the benefits of additive manufacturing.

Aidro has just recently expanded their services to oil and gas due to the need for production of valves, heat exchangers, and spare parts. Currently, their goal is to create guidelines and standards for qualifying AM metallic parts to use in petroleum and natural gas.

The two companies have signed a letter of intent regarding their ‘common approach to the oil and gas industry in Italy and on a global scale,’ states their recent press release. Together, the two companies will be continuing to work together in learning new skills and sharing knowledge as they also plan to:

  • Support industry key players in the feasibility analysis of additive manufacturing
  • Develop new technical solutions for O&G products
  • Guarantee the production of high volumes

 “My company is an Italian SME, and as many Italians, we are flexible and creative to find solutions also thinking outside the box,” said Valeria Tirelli, CEO of Aidro. “Additive manufacturing is an amazing technology that allow us to solve various problems and give life to an impressive amount of ideas.”

“When it comes to Petroleum and Natural Gas applications, we have the expertise and the technical know-how to develop AM parts, such as space part and new products. We have strengthened our relationship with EOS and with their support on the production processes, we will be stronger and faster to serve the giant O&G companies, more and more interested in the additive technologies.”

Founded 40 years ago in the field of both valves and hydraulics, Aidro is a family-based company. They began using AM along with more traditional techniques about six years ago, manufacturing specialized parts. Today, the Aidro team of engineers, designers, and operators 3D prints functional parts in metal all on EOS printers—beginning with powder handling and ending with post-processing, via their internal department which is run in strict accordance to AS / EN9100 standards.

EOS will contribute to their partnership as an AM technical expert, assisting in the optimization of parts, along with adding additional support when there are projects involving large batch production.

“EOS and AIDRO hydraulics have signed a partnership agreement to bring additional value to the Oil & Gas industry with AM solutions,” said Thomas Weitlaner, EOS Director of Additive Mind, Business Development in his recent post on Linkedin. “AIDRO hydraulics brings deep application expertise on e.g. valves, and hydraulic manifolds to this partnership and we are proud to work with Valeria Tirelli and her team even closer in the future.”

The energy sector is one that is continually in need of new technology and processes, and the use of 3D printing continues to increase as researchers are studying new techniques for energy absorption, directed energy deposition, and generating clean energy.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

[Source / Images: Aidro press release]

The post Aidro Hydraulics & EOS Highlighting AM Processes for the Oil & Gas Industry appeared first on 3DPrint.com | The Voice of 3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing.