Researchers at RMIT are developing novel materials and innovative designs to advance 3D printing technology and open new horizons for additive manufacturing.
With his desk covered in an array of 3D-printed objects, Professor Milan Brandt knows the power of visuals in explaining the potential of additive manufacturing. But it’s the most nondescript item in his arsenal – a small grey lattice-like structure – that is actually the most intriguing.
Made from a titanium alloy, the piece is designed to replace cancerous bone removed in surgery. Brandt is collaborating with Australian surgeon Professor Peter Choong, using patients’ own CAT or MRI scans to generate exact 3D-printed replicas of the bone removed.
The lattice structure mimics the density and weight of human bone, enabling the implant to carry blood and encouraging healthy bone to grow into it.
“What we’re working towards is patient-specific implants that can be manufactured in real time, as an osteosarcoma patient is on the surgical table, with a hospital’s own 3D printers,” Brandt says.
“For a surgeon to simply slot in the precise shape that has been removed would be a revolutionary advance on current solutions using clunky metal frames and bolts.”
The research team, including PhD candidate Darpan Prakash Shidid and senior lecturer Dr Martin Leary, have lodged a patent for the bone implant technology, with animal trials set to start this year and human trials to follow.
Shidid’s role in the research on patient-specific orthopaedic titanium implants has already been recognised, winning him the best presentation award at the 30th Titanium Conference and Exhibition in Chicago.
He was given the opportunity to present at the conference after winning the graduate prize in the 2014 CSIRO Titanium Challenge, sponsored by CSIRO, Boeing, the International Titanium Association and Coogee Chemicals.
The biomedical innovation, which uses selective laser melting – where three-dimensional metal objects are printed layer by layer from a computer-aided design file – is one of a range of 3D printing-related projects at RMIT’s Centre for Additive Manufacturing.
The focus is on design and novel materials, with the centre’s 18 researchers bringing diverse approaches to the challenge – from industrial design to bioengineering and materials science.
And in the $25 million Advanced Manufacturing Precinct at RMIT, they have access to leading-edge metal and polymer 3D printing technologies that can bring their ideas to reality.
“For us, it’s about developing new IP,” says Brandt, who is Technical Director of both the Centre and the Precinct. “If you’re simply using all that technology to print things, no matter how intriguing, you’re not adding value.
“We’re not just printing components for companies – our focus is research. What we do is bring research and equipment capability into this space that industry doesn’t have.
“Additive manufacturing and 3D printing are still emerging as technologies but they’re clearly not going away. We hope the new products and processes that we are developing can broaden their horizons and help industry become more globally competitive.”
Story: Gosia Kaszubksa
Photo: Carla Gottgens
This story was first published in RMIT's Making Connections magazine.