Arcam’s Q10 EBM Printer Answers the Need for Customized Metal Implants

Arcam’s Q10 metal printer is a marked improvement over previous models. Can it be a game changer for AM orthopedics?

Sweden’s Arcam has been in the metal additive manufacturing (AM) business since 1997, and has established itself as a leading manufacturer of electron beam melting (EBM) metal AM machines.

With the introduction of the Q10, Arcam is replacing its A1 EBM system, which represented the industry standard for AM orthopedics.

Featuring an upgraded electron beam, the Q10 also comes equipped with a new quality assurance measure, LayerQam, which allows for a camera-based, in-chamber part quality verification.

In addition to those features, the Q10 also includes a metal powder recovery system that enables closed powder handling, which can minimize potentially dangerous handling of combustible metal powders.

How the Q10 Works

Arcam’s Q10 uses an electron beam melting process to build parts, layer by layer, from a metal powder. Electron beam melting is a process in which a high-powered electron gun generates and focuses an intense beam of energy onto an area of metal powder.

Using electromagnetic coils, the Q10’s electron gun can quickly and accurately trace a profile predetermined by CAD input.

Given the power and accuracy of the Q10’s electron beam, a pool of metal can be melted simultaneously, speeding overall print times, optimizing surface precision and finishing, and allowing for multi-part production.

Before parts are processed by the Q10, the machine’s build chamber is pressurized to a base level of 1×10-5 mbar. As the printing process begins, helium gas is introduced into the chamber at a pressure of 2×10-3 mbar. With a stable environment established in the Q10’s build chamber, components can be produced with few imperfections, and better, more consistent material quality.

To complete its prints, the Q10 can be programmed to build a porous surface onto any component. Called Trabecular Structures by Arcam, this rough finish is ideal for orthopedics, giving components a better primary fit and allowing a greater chance of grafting with a patient’s natural bone.

The Q10 in Action

As our society grows older, medicine has been obliged to develop new technologies that lend people the freedom that they experienced in their past.

Of all the ailments that affect the elderly, one of the most difficult to solve has been how to properly create hip replacements.

Though hip replacement surgery has been available for decades, it’s only in recent years that the science has been able to create customized prosthetics that decrease overall pain by making a perfect fit with a patient’s body. Unsurprisingly, this advance has also coincided with AM’s entry into the medical market.

In today’s advanced orthopedic centers, patients are no longer treated with an off-the-shelf implant. In modern practices, the process of building a customized hip replacement begins with an MRI. In the MRI, a 3D model of a patient’s hip is generated, allowing doctors to see how and where the hip has worn, and what type of bone geometry they’re working with.

After analysis, the MRI and the doctor’s recommendation are sent to a CAD technician who can build a custom implant that fit both the patient’s need and the doctor’s orders. Once a model has been rendered, it’s quickly sent off to a machine like Arcam’s Q10, where it’s built from titanium, layer by layer.

Toward the end of the building process, the Q10 begins to add a rough surface coat to the prosthetic that will promote the patient’s natural bone to fuse with the implant.

Quick Facts

Manufacturer: Arcam
Model: Q10
Material: Titanium, cobalt chrome metal powders
Color: Dependent on material
Build envelope: 200x200x180 mm (7.9 in x 7.9 in x 7.1 in)
Layer thickness: 100 μm
Axis resolution: 100 μm
Printer dimensions: 72.8 in x 35.4 in x 86.6 in
Printer weight: 1420kg (3131 lbs)
Recommended uses: Medical implants, orthopedics
Machine price: $500,000

Who Should Use the Q10

The Q10 is an excellent machine for developing and producing end-use medical and orthopedic implants. Its ability to build any custom shape has the potential to change both the economics of implant surgeries as well as how long implants last and fit.

Why You Wouldn’t Use the Q10

While the Q10 is capable of building excellent metal parts, its small build volume and relatively short list of materials portfolio should keep anyone outside of the orthopedics market away from this machine.
A high sticker price, and the likelihood of additional safety costs that accompany all metal AM systems, might prove the Q10 to be too much of an investment for many firms.