3D Printing with PEEK
The revolutionary material that is changing the world
Undoubtedly the biomedicine topic is always in the center of all technological advancements and innovation, finding new, more efficient and trustworthy ways to improve health and quality of life allows us to keep going forward as a society.
3D Printing has found a variety of niches where it can be used to do that. Either through cheap and resistant prothesis, dental impressions, osseous system modeling for pre-surgical analysis that can reduce risk and time in the surgery room up to 33% or even printing organs and nervous systems.
Maybe some of this examples seem like taken out of a sci-fi movie, but research in all these topics has been here for over 10 years already. A pretty outstanding development is the one from a material called PEEK which features properties similar to titanium and its biocompatible and at the glance of the eye looks pretty much like an everyday plastic.
This material is actually the focus of research in implantology and thermoplastics in general, given that its characteristics could possibly revolutionize the whole implants industry as well as many others.
PEEK implants have the particularity of not only being a plastic of great resistance, but also for its similar flexibility to bone which helps with ostheointegration without suffering from decalcification nor producing fibrous tissue around the implant.
All of this allows PEEK to be the perfect candidate for use in medicine and the current uses are the following:
Minimal Invasion Fusion Surgery
Mobility Preservation and Dynamic Preservation
Currently the PEEK devices production is done through mold injection and CNC modeling, which makes the process long and expensive not to mention with a high quantity of waste. PEEK pellets got to a 700 usd price per pound. Right now the price has come down but it is still an expensive material which slowed its research a bit, but now there are many interested parts on this growing opportunity for the market.
To have a better understanding of the growing influence of PEEK, we can look at the market of intervertebral discs; PEEK is the material that everybody expects to be the focus on biomaterial and biomed design courses. It is not perfect for every application and one disadvantage it the high price tag. However, for a lot of them it could have great benefits and advantages.
The benefits for the use of PEEK on intervertebral discs have carried a great acceptance from the general community on this kinds of devices. In fact, the intervertebral discs are an industry valued for over 1 billion dollars, and the majority of its growth is due to the implementation of PEEK in such devices. One could argue that PEEK has at least been instrumental on the growth of a multimillion dollar medical devices industry.
Those last points have lead the additive manufacturing industry to start taking advantage of the weaknesses from the current production, however, PEEK 3D printing comes with big challenges for 3D Printer developers, because PEEK’s fusion point at 360 °C and its tendency to shrink from temp. variations, make it really hard to stay accurate to models and that’s unacceptable for the medicine industry.
In the world of 3D printing, the majority of printers have a very limited variety of materials to choose from, thanks to the lack of own extruder designs, leaving the user to choose between ABS, Nylon and some PLA mixed materials, which are very far from being in the interest of major players on the industry.
At Innovo we believe in collective development and for this reason we are always in search of creating knowledge. We are open to feedback and comments from the community and we invite you to discover new possibilities and opportunities together. Please feel free to contact us to learn more.