A circular sustainable supply chain for medical 3D printed implants

Materials producer 6K Additive embarks on another mission to transform a metals supply chain, this time in Australia and with  Surgical Metal Recycling Pty Ltd (SMR), a company that is dedicated to changing the way we look at recycling medical and aerospace grade metal waste.

It’s easy to hear about recycling in aerospace or other industrial sectors. The idea is not really spread across the medical industry. As a matter of fact, while the idea of using recycled metals to produce medical devices is plausible, one does not often question what happens to surgical implants at the end of their life.

Hip, knee and shoulder joint replacement surgeries, along with increasing use of metal nails, screws and plates as part of surgical interventions has created a significant deposit of valuable metals and alloys within the human population. When implants are removed for replacement or postmortem, limited options for reclaiming and reusing the materials exist, one learns from a press release.

It’s been five years that SMR has been working on recycling specialty metal alloys into high quality 3D metal printing powders. Through the partnership with 6K Additive, the company will also explore the way surgical implants are treated at the end of their useful life.

Peter Pecht, CEO of SMR explains: “Currently, a reclaimed implant would be processed in an induction furnace that uses a massive amount of energy with a commensurately large carbon footprint. By processing materials with 6K’s UniMelt platform, we will be able to produce premium metal powders sustainably from medical sources, greatly improving the retention of value.

The two organizations said they will utilize used and out-of-spec implants, swarf and used metal additive manufacturing powder supplied by SMR and reprocess the material through 6K Additive’s UniMelt production-scale microwave plasma platform initially in the US, later moving to Europe. The resulting premium powders can then be used to create new parts through additive manufacturing, with the ultimate goal of the partnership to create new certified implants from existing parts through a sustainable and circular supply chain.

Being able to source feedstock and recycle medical implants is the first innovative step toward our mission. There is a growing population that require medical titanium implants for knees, spine, and hips, this agreement creates a path to recycle these parts and enable new implant production with sustainably sourced feedstock,” Frank Roberts, President of 6K Additive comments.

The collaboration will initially focus on titanium (Ti64) and will expand to incorporate cobalt chrome. Through the UniMelt’s highly controlled process, oxygen can be removed from the titanium powder and the material grade can be improved. 6K’s process also allows for greater than 90% yield of the desired particle size distribution compared to other plasma or gas atomization processes where yields are typically 25-35%, further decreasing cost and environmental impact.

6K Additive commissioned Foresight Management to conduct a life cycle assessment of both their titanium and nickel powders. As a reminder, that company commissioned an LCA of 6K’s AM Powder Process last year.

The present study quantified the environmental impacts associated with the production of printable metal powders and specifically compared atomization technology methods to 6K Additive’s process. Their findings showed that for Ti64, 6K’s UniMelt process delivered, at minimum, a 74% energy reduction and 78% carbon emission reduction from traditional processes. The independent studies can be download here.

The announcement above was made during the 2023 edition of Rapid+TCT in Chicago.

Remember, you can post free of charge job opportunities in the AM Industry on 3D ADEPT Media or look for a job via our job board. Make sure to follow us on our social networks and subscribe to our weekly newsletter : FacebookTwitterLinkedIn & Instagram ! If you want to be featured in the next issue of our digital magazine or if you hear a story that needs to be heard, make sure to send it to contact@3dadept.com