A simulation program that may make it easy to produce bone implants whose structure resembles that of the natural bone has been developed by experts at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Applied Materials Research.
The researchers say that the simulation program calculates the bone's internal structure and porosity, and the measurements can later be used to "bake" the implant from metal powder using a rapid prototyping machine.
They have revealed that the rapid prototyping technology involves coating a surface with wafer-thin layers of special metal powder.
A laser beam heats the powdered metal in the exact places that need to be firm, they say.
"It's like baking a cake," says Andreas Burblies, spokesman for the Fraunhofer Numerical Simulation of Products, Processes Alliance.
Pointing out that any remaining loose powder is subsequently removed, the researcher added: "The end product is an open-pored element. Each point possesses exactly the right density and thus also a certain stability."
The new approach enables the engineers to produce particularly lightweight components, which are customized for each application and extremely robust.
Meanwhile, the research team has further enhanced the process to the extent that they can now change the internal structure of the parts after production by means of precision drilling.
"We can manufacture and adapt the parts exactly as required," says Burblies, adding that this makes the technique very attractive to a number of industries, among them the manufacturers of bone implants.