Laser sintering of titanium gains importance

The main applications for laser sintered titanium are in medical and dental devices, aerospace and motor sports, and the fashion industry

FIGURE 1. Dental implant screws are produced using a hybrid structure comprising a fully dense body with a porous surface morphology.
Click here to enlarge image

Laser sintering using EOSINT M-270 systems from EOS (Krailling, Germany; www.eos.com) is a production method for many titanium applications where the conventional methods of casting, forging, and machining are often difficult and expensive. Following the EOS e-Manufacturing concept, titanium is also often used for high-value components produced in relatively small quantities. And the capability to easily build hollow and other lightweight structures by laser sintering offers many possibilities to improve the performance and therefore the value of titanium parts in weight-critical applications such as aerospace components.

Titanium alloys have excellent mechanical properties and corrosion resistance combined with low specific weight and good biocompatibility. So far the main applications for laser sintered titanium are in medical and dental devices, aerospace and motor sports, and the fashion industry. The most commonly used material is EOS Titanium Ti64, which is Ti6Al4V alloy in fine powder form. In some medical cases an extra-low interstitial (ELI) version of this powder is used or commercially pure titanium powder.

The following examples show the impressive scope of application areas in which laser sintered titanium can be used.


FIGURE 2. Laser sintering enables the design of unique jewelry shapes.
Click here to enlarge image

Leader Italia s.r.l. (www.leaderitalia.it), a pioneer in the production of medical devices in titanium by laser sintering, has developed a special range of innovative dental implant screws called TiXos, which have been specially designed for production on EOSINT M-270 systems using titanium material, and include unique advantages (see FIGURE 1). Conventionally such screws are machined from solid metal. In laser sintering, the screws are grown by melting the metal powder together, so material wastage is avoided. The laser exposure is controlled to produce a hybrid structure comprising a fully dense body with a porous surface morphology, which eliminates the need for coating and offers enhanced bioactivity. It is also a highly productive process.

Because no tooling is needed, different types and sizes of screw can be produced within each job, according to demand. The result is efficient and flexible series production of a high-performance product. Laser sintering enables the company to computer-design and manufacture dental implants and relative surfaces characterized by intercommunicating cavities that replicate the bone structure—which is impossible to obtain through traditional surface treating processes.

FutureFactories (www.futurefactories.com), a UK-based company, has been leading the way in applying the unique possibilities of e-Manufacturing to the creation of novel fashion and consumer products. In recent years they have used laser sintering to create plastic lamps and chairs as well as metal jewelry products with eye-catching geometries, which typically would be difficult or impossible to manufacture in other ways. FutureFactories broke new ground by producing a limited edition of commercial products, each one unique but based on a common meta-design, thereby implementing mass-individualization. The design is highly complex, comprising intertwining free-form shapes, and was implemented in titanium because it would be virtually impossible to produce by conventional methods—soldering, which is commonly used in jewelry, cannot be applied to titanium. The laser sintered pendants are built fully dense and polished to produce the desired aesthetic appearance (see FIGURE 2).


FIGURE 3. Art Nouveau designs in footwear are achieved by rapid prototyping.
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Kerrie Luft (www.kerrieluft.com) a British footwear designer is creating unique shoes embracing new technologies such as laser sintering. In her latest collection “Nouveau” she defines the characteristics of Art Nouveau by rapid prototyping titanium to create the complex geometry of the heel. She has created innovative shapes within both the upper of the shoes and the heels. The filigree structures of the high heels required a high strength material, and titanium was chosen as being ideal. The resulting shoes of her MA collection—with revolutionary heel designs using laser sintered titanium (see FIGURE 3)—were showcased in London.

There is certainly still much more to be discovered and advanced in the application of laser sintered titanium to many fields. For more information on EOS GmbH Electro Optical Systems contact Claudia Jordan at claudia.jordan@eos.info.

 

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