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Quality Control for Additive Manufacturing in Orthopedics

Additive Manufacturing is revolutionizing the industrial product chain. Its greatest challenge is to verify 3D-printed components where absolute reliability is required such as in the medical field.

In the following interview Johannes Kohl, Project Leader for Strategic Business Segment Medical at ZEISS Industrial Quality Solutions, and Edson Costa-Santos, Senior Application Development Manager, talk about quality solutions to enable the full potential of this disruptive technology.

What is ZEISS’ strategy regarding quality control for additive manufacturing in orthopedics?

Johannes Kohl: At ZEISS, we have made it our priority to always help our customers achieve the next step in manufacturing, the customers’ applications are at the center of our interest.  A new technology like additive manufacturing also implies new challenges for our customers in the manufacturing process itself. When we analyze industry fields like medical, which I am responsible for at ZEISS, we identify the different process steps of our customers and how we can support them with our quality solutions. This goes beyond quality assurance and affects the manufacturing process itself: With our solutions, customers gain valuable insights into the relevant components and how to adjust them for optimal results. At ZEISS, we have several departments working together to offer our customers seamless solutions from our broad portfolio to shorten their time-to-market and their part creation process as well as to meet their quality requirements.

What are the benefits of additive manufacturing for the production of orthopedic implants?

Edson Costa-Santos: It has the power to change the entire manufacturing process regarding the supply chain and product development, has the potential to shorten production time, and promises a higher-quality product. Most importantly however, it offers the ability to fabricate very complex structures for customized parts, which is obviously a huge factor for mass-customized products for the medical industry.

What challenges do manufacturers face in their additive manufacturing processes?

Johannes Kohl: One important aspect is cost reduction, because currently, manufacturing additive parts in most cases costs more than through traditional methods. Another challenge is to reduce the manufacturing time and to increase quality. Central to this is gaining insights into the printing process to be able to continuously improve it. With a stabilized process, manufacturers of orthopedic implants can focus on the development of more organic structures that for example better support bone growth.

How can ZEISS help customers achieve these goals?

Edson Costa-Santos: For an effective quality assurance in additive manufacturing, a multi-scale quality control is needed – from powder characterization to an in-situ analysis of what is happening in your printer to different criteria of the final product. This means you need for example a scanning electron microscope to define powder quality, a CMM to understand the influences of post-print heat treatment and part removal on the final quality, X-Ray computed tomography to detect defects and analyze the inner structure of parts and optical 3D scanning for dimensional and surface quality inspection. With our uniquely comprehensive portfolio, ZEISS can provide solutions for every step in this process. But maybe even more important is our holistic approach to quality control, which allows us to correlate data between different supply chains and different steps within those supply chains.

Can you give us an example of such a solution?

Edson Costa-Santos: One very exciting development for quality control in additive manufacturing is our ZEISS in-process monitoring. This is an inline solution which enables users to observe and analyze the quality of the powder bed during the 3D printing process. After all, a uniformly distributed and trouble-free powder bed is essential for a stable and reliable additive manufacturing process. And with the ZEISS in-process monitoring, we can detect, classify, and mark abnormalities like grooves or missing powder automatically using machine learning, which significantly reduces the time and effort involved in quality assurance and thus improves output. It will come to market in 2021 with further enhancements being in the works already.

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