Interview with Mark Morrison, Manager, Materials Research and Tribology, at Smith & Nephew, USA.
Question: How is Additive Manufacturing actually used in orthopaedics and what are the prospects for the future?
The first widespread, commercial use of AM in the orthopaedic industry was the fabrication of patient-specific instruments for total knee arthroplasty. Since then, applications have expanded into the fabrication of implantable devices. In general, most of these products have been devices like acetabular shells with porous bone-interfacing surfaces that allow bone to grow into the pores to hold the implant in place. AM is particularly advantageous in this particular application because it allows for the creation of advanced, custom porous structures that can be fabricated in fully porous, bulk forms if desired. Finally, AM is being used to fabricate patient-specific implants for complex cases and/or deformities.
Q: Is Additive Manufacturing really set to revolutionize orthopaedic product manufacture?
“Revolutionize” is a strong word. AM is not a replacement for conventional manufacturing processes and probably won’t be. It is simply another tool in the toolbox. For the near future, AM is going to be used in applications where there is a clear value proposition over conventional, subtractive methods. As additive manufacturing becomes faster and cheaper, the applications with good value propositions will likely expand.