AK Medical expands GE Additive Arcam EBM capacity as demand for 3D printed implants increases in China

Chinese orthopaedic implant manufacturer AK Medical has expanded its 3D printing capacity to include eight Arcam Electron Beam Melting (EBM) platforms from GE Additive.

The company has been using EMB technology for more than ten years and has sought to increase its investment in 3D printing in response to the increasing demand throughout China for orthopaedic products due, in large part, to the country’s ageing population. AK Medical is among the leading companies within the Chinese joint prostheses market and today boasts five 3D printed orthopaedic implants with National Medical products Administration (NMPA) approval, after becoming the first in China to receive NMPA endorsement for a 3D printed implant.

Additive manufacturing has provided AK with greater flexibility in the design of both standard and customised implant products, with the company able to offer products with better fit and increased comfort, while also building the trabecular structure directly into the part to increase levels of integration between the implant and bone. Printed implants are also said to require reduced post-heat treatment, enable average cost reductions of 38% and facilitate porous structures similar to regular bone tissue.

AK, with the support of onsite GE Additive engineers, has been able to additively manufacture a range of implants which have been used in hospitals across China. One case in 2016 saw the 3D printing of a customised artificial vertebral body comprising five vertebral pieces similar to the anatomical structure of the body of a patient who was suffering from a rare malignant chordoma. A tumour, which could only be removed surgically, had eroded five of the patient’s vertebrae. Using a 19-centimetre-long spinal support and four pedicles on the artificial vertebral prosthesis, the doctors were able to enhance the stability of the spine and get the patient walking again without braces within two months of the procedure.

“Our aim is to serve both patients and medical experts,” commented AK Medical CEO and Executive Director Li Zhijiang. “With our advanced products, we strive to make the treatment of orthopaedic conditions more efficient and easier, while bringing about better outcomes and quicker recovery times to our patients. We have used EBM technology for more than a decade, so when we recently needed to invest in new machines, we naturally opted for the Q10plus. The Q10plus systems provides a user-friendly interface, a higher precision of processes and better-quality products. It helps us improve the cost efficiency of both standard production and small-scale customised production.”

Using metal additive manufacturing, AK Medical has established a presence across China and in the UK with JRI Orthopaedics. As it expands its additive manufacturing capacity, the company is also eyeing opportunities in international markets, while contributing to the development of local industry standards of 3D printed medical devices throughout China.  

“We look to the future full of confidence,” added Li. “Additive technology is tremendously advantageous in terms of cost and personalised customisation is increasingly becoming an industry trend. And when you begin to think of it in combination with CRT, nuclear MRO, software, the internet, 5G and many other technologies, then additive is likely to unleash greater potential to boost the entire medical industry.”

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