6K Additive and Surgical Metal Recycling to Create Circular Sustainable Supply Chain for Medical Implants

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

6K Additive, a division of 6K Inc., announced today that it has entered into 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 increasing use of metal nails, screws and plates as part of surgical interventions has created a significant deposit of valuable metals and alloys within the human population. When implants are removed for replacement or postmortem, limited options for reclaiming and reusing the materials exist.

Peter Pecht, CEO of SMR explains: “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.”

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

“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 the 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%, further decreasing cost and environmental impact.

6K Additive commissioned Foresight Management to conduct a life cycle assessment of both their titanium and nickel powders. This study quantified the environmental impacts associated with the production of printable metal powders and specifically compared atomization technology methods to 6K Additive’s process. 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. The independent studies can be download here.

Pecht continued: “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.”

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