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6K Additive and SMR enter surgical implants recycling agreement

6K’s UniMelt process allows end-of-life and out-of-spec parts to be profitably re-used with a significantly reduced environmental footprint

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6K Additive, a division of 6K Inc., has entered an agreement with Australia-based Surgical Metal Recycling Pty Ltd (SMR). The companies will explore a shared mission to transform the metals supply chain in Australia, including revolutionizing the way surgical implants are treated at the end of their useful life.

Hip, knee, and shoulder joint replacement surgeries, along with the increasing use of metal nails, screws, and plates as part of surgical interventions have created a significant deposit of valuable metals and alloys within the human population. When surgical implants are removed for replacement or postmortem, limited options for reclaiming and reusing the materials exist.

“Currently, a reclaimed implant would be processed in an induction furnace that uses a massive amount of energy with a commensurately large carbon footprint. By processing materials with 6K’s UniMelt platform, we will be able to produce premium metal powders sustainably from medical sources, greatly improving the retention of value,” said Peter Pecht, CEO of SMR.

The agreement between the 6K Additive and SMR will utilize used and out-of-spec implants, swarf, and used metal AM powder – supplied by SMR – and reprocess the material through 6K Additive’s UniMelt production-scale microwave plasma platform. This will initially focus on the US, and eventually shift to Europe. The resulting premium powders can then be used to create new parts through AM, with the ultimate goal of the partnership to create new, certified implants from existing parts through a sustainable and circular supply chain.

Surgical metals which have remained after the cremation process. Image source: Stuff.

“Our mission of leading the powder manufacturing market with a sustainable process aligns perfectly with the partnership with SMR. Being able to source feedstock and recycle medical implants is the first innovative step toward our mission,” said Frank Roberts, President of 6K Additive. “There is a growing population that require medical titanium implants for knees, spine, and hips, this agreement creates a path to recycle these parts and enable new implant production with sustainably sourced feedstock.”

The collaboration will initially focus on titanium (Ti64) and will expand to incorporate cobalt chrome. Through UniMelt’s highly controlled process, oxygen can be removed from the titanium powder and the material grade can be improved. 6K’s process also allows for greater than 90% yield of the desired particle size distribution compared to other plasma or gas atomization processes where yields are typically 25-35%.

In April last year, 6K Additive released the results of a life cycle assessment, conducted by Foresight Management, of both their titanium and nickel powders. Their findings showed that for Ti64, 6K’s UniMelt process delivered, at minimum, a 74% energy reduction and 78% carbon emission reduction from traditional processes.

“By recycling, re-using, and rejuvenating the metals we already have in the country, we can massively reduce the environmental impacts of metal extraction and processing for virgin material thanks to 6K’s UniMelt platform,” said Peter Pecht.

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Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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