by Loren Bonner
, DOTmed News Online Editor
3-D printing technology is crossing into a new frontier. On August 8, ExOne Company, which sells and manufactures 3-D printing machines, and the 3-D printing company rapid prototype + manufacturing ("rp+m") announced the result of their partnership to bring 3-D printed tungsten to the medical imaging marketplace: the M-FLEX 3D Printing System
Traditionally, lead has been used to protect patients, providers and their environments from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation. But radiation shielding manufacturers have been on the hunt for replacement materials due to the safety and toxicity issues around lead. In recent years, tungsten has been viewed as a viable solution for radiation shielding (it's a compliant solution under the Restriction of Use of Hazardous Substances).
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"It's roughly double the density of lead so the advantage of tungsten is that you can get by with 40 to 50 percent less wall thickness and less mass than lead," Russell Wolff, business development manager at rp+m, told DOTmed News.
At the same time, the industry is looking for a way to compress time to market for parts and products. 3-D printing is revolutionizing manufacturing by making the process much more rapid and customizable. In fact, Wolff said they are coining a phrase that goes beyond rapid prototyping: "Rapid Manufacturing".
In addition to the rapid manufacturing, the technology ExOne developed gives rp+m the opportunity to produce a part without the use of tooling — something that can cost upward of $30,000 for the company requesting the product.
"We started discussing this with our shielding customers four months ago and there was a lot of interest from large companies as well as small. They see the value of being able to develop prototypes in radiation shielding material without tooling and even getting into the rapid manufacturing without ever needing tooling," said Wolff.
According to Dana Foster, marketing manager for rp+m, the company is the first to 3-D print tungsten.