6K Additive and Surgical Metal Recycling collaborate for circular supply chain for implants

May 5, 2023

6K Additive, a division of 6k North Andover, Massachusetts, USA, has entered into an agreement with Surgical Metal Recycling Pty Ltd (SMR), West Gosford, Australia, towards the goal of creating a more circular environment for surgical implants.

The agreement between the two organisations will utilise used and out-of-spec implants, swarf and used metal Additive Manufacturing powder supplied by SMR. This material will be reprocessed through 6K Additive’s UniMelt production-scale microwave plasma platform (initially in the US, later moving to Europe). The resulting powders can then be used to create new additively manufactured parts, with an end goal of the partnership being to create new certified implants from existing parts through a sustainable and circular supply chain.

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The increase in hip, knee and shoulder replacement surgeries and metal nails, screws and plates as part of surgical intervention has resulted in a growing deposit of valuable metals and alloys within the population. When implants are either removed for replacement or post-mortem, however, there are currently only limited options for reclaiming and reusing the materials.

“Currently, a reclaimed implant would be processed in an induction furnace that uses a massive amount of energy with a commensurately large carbon footprint,” explained Peter Pecht, CEO of SMR. “By processing materials with 6K’s UniMeltÒ platform, we will be able to produce premium metal powders sustainably from medical sources, greatly improving the retention of value.”

Initially, the collaboration will focus on titanium (Ti64), but will expand to incorporate cobalt chrome. Through the UniMelt microwave plasma process, oxygen can be removed from the titanium powder and the material grade subsequently improved. 6K’s process reportedly allows for a more than 90% yield of the desired particle size distribution compared to other plasma or gas atomisation processes where yields are typically 25-35%, as established in the Life Cycle Assessment conducted by Foresight Management under 6K Additive’s commission.

“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,” stated 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.”

Pecht concluded, “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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