What as-yet-untapped materials would be useful in
Alex Berry: In our view, everything
we want to use in printing terms
should be biocompatible and
equivalent to materials already
regulated for medical use. Obviously,
we are already using printed titanium
and some steel, and recently there
have been some plastics that have
been FDA-approved for limited use, but to be able to print
a range of bespoke or limited devices in a cost-effective
manner using the benefits of printing would certainly move
Wes Hart: Refractory metals.
Imperial has specialized in refractory
metal working – tantalum, tungsten,
molybdenum, niobium – since the
1960s, and we have a number of
customers who are interested in
exploring additively manufactured
refractory metal components.
Refractory metals are desirable for high-heat applications
and are very resistant to chemical corrosion.
Tim Geurtjens: We have the
capability to work with many
different kinds of materials. Basically
all the materials that can be welded,
can be printed by our machines.
With our partners from the welding
and metal industry, we are working
on developing custom alloys. As this
technique is relatively new, it calls for new materials. Also
combining different metals in a single print is an interesting
What’s keeping those materials from being used?
Berry: I think it’s just a question of time. Material design
and formulation is moving forward in leaps and bounds,
and the more motivation to create medically compatible
materials, the more likely we will end up with a suitable,
approved range. It seems the hurdles for this are already
being met head-on. There are now several specialist
companies concentrating on material design, and the more
we can show the potential for medicine, the more of an
incentive for those companies to work on the challenge.
At that point, the floodgates will open – not just in
medicine, but in other fields involving inert materials.
Bespoke packaging [is] an example, but anything that
might need standards relating to food grades or sterilization
will be available to not only print but also test with so
prototypes can be created … for clinical, food, or cosmetic
Hart: Refractory metal powder is very expensive and
can be reactive. It should be processed in a vacuum
environment for safe handling. There are very few metal
additive machines that have this capability. Print parameters
also need further development and optimization.
[These hurdles can be overcome through] research and
development. As an industry, we need more experience
printing refractory metals. There’s no shortcut; we must
test and experiment until we achieve the desired results.
Geurtjens: One of the challenges of making custom
alloys for printing is the cost and speed of producing
In this edition of Brainstorm, we chat with Alex Berry, director of Sutrue, a U.K.-based company that uses
additive manufacturing to produce automated suturing devices; Wesley Hart, marketing director with New
Jersey’s Imperial Machine & Tool, a company that uses additive manufacturing to make metal parts for industrial
use; and Tim Geurtjens, chief technical officer of MX3D, an Amsterdam concern that uses 3D printing for art
installations. These 3D-printing pioneers from the worlds of medicine, industry, and art explore the materials that
should be viable and accessible in the future.