Tailor-made medical implants could be closer to reality, following the installation of a state-of-the-art grinding machine at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing.
The PROFIMAT MC607, 5-axis CNC grinding machine, made by German company Blohm Jung, is one of the most flexible machines of its type and has been installed at the AMRC Design Prototyping and Testing Centre.
One of its key roles will be to enable researchers to increase understanding of how materials behave during grinding - and it could be used to create a high-quality finish on artificial knee joints, made from cobalt-chrome powder using 3D printing technology.
3D printing could bring major benefits for patients and is one area of research being investigated by the newly established Medical AMRC, which is on the same site as the AMRC.
At present, patients needing replacement knees have to make do with the best possible match from a range of standard sizes.
In future, the joint being replaced could be scanned so that a 3D replica can be made - printed - that would be a perfect match.
“The big advantage is the joint is bespoke, so you are replacing like for like and 3D printing saves on material, so there is the potential to reduce weight,” says Dr Andy Bell, from the AMRC Design & Prototyping Group.
“However, the surface isn’t of a high enough quality for components used in a replacement joint, so it has to be very, very highly finished, which is where the grinder comes in.”
The centre’s new CNC grinder, supplied by Blohm Jung’s UK agent, JRA Bennett, can produce highly complex components without the need for profiled grinding wheels.
Its 24-position tool magazine can hold mills, drills and other cutters, as well as grinding wheels up to 400 mm in diameter and 100 mm wide.
That allows the number of separate machining operations to be reduced, often to just one, cutting manufacturing costs and, when combined with the eight tonne machine’s increased rigidity, increasing accuracy.
The machine also boasts significantly higher positioning speeds and a wheel cleaning system that helps to keep grinding wheels sharp, while maintaining their profile, allowing increased feed rates.
The AMRC with Boeing - part of Sheffield University - works with manufacturing businesses, from global aerospace giants to local SMEs. Businesses can work on a one-off project, or join as a member for long-term collaboration.
It has more than 70 member companies which pay an annual fee to access its resources and expertise, and which help determine its research programme – membership is open to all. Boeing is a founding partner and continues to play a key role in our continuing development.
The AMRC with Boeing is a partner in the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, a national network of manufacturing research.