Autodesk recently unveiled its new venture into the medical industry with the launch of a new piece of generative design software, Autodesk Within Medical. Designed to optimise the 3D printing of medical implants for the orthopaedic industry, the software has already been used to create implants for more than 600 patients and that’s set to grow to 15,000 by the end of this year. We spoke to Shane Fox of Within Technologies, now part of Autodesk, to find out how that is being made possible.
“When you look at additive as a whole, medical is the most successful of all the industries,” Shane explained. “There’s no aeroplanes with 3D printed parts flying around yet, there’s not a lot of automotive cases where there’s 3D printing. When you look at orthopaedics, it’s only about to take off ten fold.”
It’s probably not surprising to learn that the medical industry is one of the biggest adopters of 3D technologies. We hear stories all of the time about 3D printing in healthcare improving the lives of people across the globe but it’s hard to believe that something that deals with living human beings and placement into the human body has seen a much bigger uptake than that of a more industrial sector like automotive or aerospace.
“It’s not that it’s a difficult process to get parts or orthopaedics approved for serial production, it’s just that it takes time,” Shane commented. “It’s a long process but it’s been like that in the orthopaedic industry forever. The barrier to entry is still high but like anything with new technology that’s kind of how it works.”
These barriers are things like animal testing, mechanical testing and government approval but both the European and South American markets are proving to be the most advanced against these odds. Of course cost is also a consideration but like any technology, as time goes on, these costs are constantly dropping as small to midsize biomedical firms come in to compete with the big guys. Of course in order to make this technology successful, you need the software to back it up and that’s where Within Medical came in with what Shane feels is the future for the orthopaedic industry.
“The best part of all of this is our software is calibrated to work in the additive manufacturing world," Shane added. "This is a 3D printing software, it’s not traditional CAD/CAM software that was converted or we added in a plug in, this software is optimised for the 3D printing world. We have longstanding relationships with some of the major manufacturers out there so all of the big guys. What you input into the software is what you get out.”
Two of those big players are EOS and Arcam who have worked alongside Autodesk on thousands of test builds and collaborations to make what Shane believes to be the best software solution in the industry for both patient specific implants and serial production.
Recognising a huge space in the market and the potential for porous structures in osseointegration, Within Medical has redefined the use of micro lattice structures to accelerate bone growth into a tangible object, otherwise known as trabecular tessellation. All bones are different based on weight, activity and lifestyle and therefore react differently to implants. The combat this, the software uses randomised patterns to mimic organic bone growth which results in much better patient outcomes.
“I like to think of organic as controlled chaos,” Shane explained. “The human bone reacts to chaos better than it does to some type of grid or set pattern so the bone then thinks it’s growing back into itself because of this random porous structure.”
In order for these structures to be successful, the industry needs the right materials. Currently around 90% of traditional orthopaedic implants are made of titanium with different type of polymers slowly being introduced onto the market. Metals will still be a major force in the orthopaedic industry with new metals like cobalt chrome, magnesium and pure titanium meaning the future of metals looks like a bright one. As material developments and of course machine enhancements happen, Within Medical will follow suit to ensure it stays ahead of the game.
“For the medical software we’re going to have some new developments and new features that the industry has been begging for and we’re also going to introduce some technologies that we hope to blow the socks off the industry as well," Shane concluded.