3D-Printed Vertebrae: A Landmark Surgery

Cervical Vertebrae

(DGIwire) – In late 2015, a neurosurgeon at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney, Australia, met a patient who suffered from a form of cancer called chordroma, according to a Mashable report. The patient had a tumor in a particularly inaccessible location: two vertebrae at the top of the neck involved in rotation of the head. Previously, there had been few attempts to treat this type of tumor surgically due to the high risk involved.

But 3-D printing offered a way. According to Mashable, the surgeon worked with an Australian medical device company that 3D printed a titanium implant as well as a number of models of the patient’s exact anatomy so the surgeon was able to practice the procedure before walking into the operating room.

In 3D metal printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), a component is built up one microscopic layer at a time out of a metallic powder that is manipulated by a laser; a computer-aided design (CAD) blueprint tells the laser exactly how to shape the material—but finalizing that optimal blueprint can be an arduous process.

“AM is shaping up to be one of the next big waves in medicine, offering the ability to manufacture bones and joints in order to restore function,” says Mark J. Cola, President and CEO of Sigma Labs, Inc. “At the same time, such breakthroughs require an enhanced ability to implement a unprecedented level of quality assurance during the 3D printing process.”

Sigma Labs has developed a proprietary, patent-protected, quality assurance software suite called PrintRite3D® that transforms the 3D printing process. In contrast to traditional quality assurance that is performed after-the-fact, PrintRite3D works in real-time to assist quality inspectors in sorting acceptable from suspect components.

The PrintRite3D® suite benefits medical device companies that are 3D-printing metal parts in three aspects. The first involves metallurgy: in addition to optimizing the structure/property/parameter qualities of metal parts, Sigma Labs’ software allows engineers to assess each part’s microstructure—scanning and collecting data on potential weaknesses (like “pores” in the metal). The second benefit involves geometry: the software helps capture images of every layer of metal as it is being incorporated into the part; this data, available digitally, gives inspectors the ability to detect any distortion as parts are made and adjust the machine accordingly in real-time. Finally, the software enhances a company’s productivity by collecting Big Data regarding the performance of multiple 3D printers at multiple locations into a single database.

With a core facility in Santa Fe, NM, Sigma Labs offers clients a comprehensive one-stop shop for 3D metal printing and process engineering; alternately, Sigma Labs can offer its suite to clients at their own facilities.

“The best is yet to come for medicine and 3D printing, and this bright future is a result in part of advances in quality assurance,” adds Cola.

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