6K Additive, a division of 6K Inc., announced a collaboration with Australia-based Surgical Metal Recycling Pty Ltd (SMR) to create circular sustainable supply chain for medical implants. The companies will investigate a joint mission to transform Australia’s metals supply chain, including revolutionising how surgical implants are treated at the end of their useful life.
The increasing use of metal nails, screws, and plates as part of surgical interventions, as well as hip, knee, and shoulder joint replacement surgeries, has resulted in a significant deposit of valuable metals and alloys within the human population. When implants are removed for replacement or post-mortem, the materials have few options for reclaiming and reusing.
Circular Sustainable Supply Chain for Medical Implants
The two companies have agreed to reprocess used and out-of-spec implants, swarf, and used metal additive manufacturing powder supplied by SMR through 6K Additive’s UniMelt production-scale microwave plasma platform, first in the United States and then in Europe. The resulting premium powders can then be used to create new parts via additive manufacturing, with the partnership’s ultimate goal being to create new certified implants from existing parts via a sustainable and circular supply chain.
“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 UniMeltÒ platform, we will be able to produce premium metal powders sustainably from medical sources, greatly improving the retention of value.”– Peter Pecht, CEO of SMR
Frank Roberts, President of 6K Additive said, “Our mission of leading the powder manufacturing market with a sustainable process aligns perfectly with the partnership with SMR. 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.”
The collaboration will begin with titanium (Ti64) and will eventually include cobalt chrome. The oxygen in titanium powder can be removed and the material grade improved using the UniMelt’s highly controlled process. In addition, compared to other plasma or gas atomization processes, 6K’s process yields greater than 90% of the desired particle size distribution, reducing cost and environmental impact even further.
Foresight Management was hired by 6K Additive to conduct a life cycle assessment on their titanium and nickel powders. This study quantified the environmental impacts of printable metal powder production and specifically compared atomization technology methods to 6K Additive’s process. According to their findings, 6K’s UniMelt process delivered at least a 74% energy reduction and a 78% carbon emission reduction over traditional processes for Ti64. The independent studies are available for download here.
Pecht continued, “By recycling, re-using and rejuvenating the metals we already have in the country, we can massively reduce the environmental impacts of metal extraction and processing for virgin material thanks to 6K’s UniMelt platform.”
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