Disruptive processes in the medical industry exploit the unique qualities of titanium.

With high demand for effective and reusable face coverings, scientists are working on the production of an antibacterial mask that benefits from the photocatalytic properties of titanium oxide. When exposed to UV light, titanium oxide fibers woven into the mask react to moisture to create agents that can eliminate viruses and bacteria. Due to its strength and versatility, titanium has been used for medical devices and hospital equipment since the 1940s.  Now, as well as meeting the need for new antibacterial substances, innovative manufacturing and chemical processes are making the most of the metal’s unique qualities for innovative orthopedic implants, precision equipment for medical analysis, and customizable implements for surgery.

Molding Titanium Foam into Osseous implants

Titanium in its pure metal form is recognized for its high strength to weight ratio. Durable yet versatile, a titanium sheet can be customized as required to produce unique items. Being twice as strong as aluminum, highly resistant to corrosion and non-toxic, titanium and its alloys are particularly suited to biomedical implants such as hip and knee replacements. This is also because titanium possesses the unique ability to bind with living bone. As no adhesive is required to attach the implant, the joint between bone and metal implant tends to last longer and requires much more force to break. Titanium, in the form of titanium foam, can now be injection-molded into spinal implants that replicate both the porous quality and mechanical properties of bone. These innovative implants are combined with a polymer instrument which not only improves the process of implantation but, because they are single use, also removes the need for labored sterilization procedures.

Exploiting the Antimicrobial Properties of Titanium Oxide

Due to the frequent and sometimes inappropriate use of antibiotics, some bacterial strains are now becoming resistant to drug treatments. This is of great concern for human health, especially when coupled with the growing need for antibacterial substances to combat widespread pandemics. As well as being stable and non-toxic, the photocatalytic properties of titanium mean that titanium dioxide is an effective antimicrobial compound. When synthesised into titanium dioxide nanoparticles, the ratio of surface area to volume is raised and the beneficial properties of titanium dioxide are increased further.  Several methods of synthesis exist, but there is currently increased interest in ecological processes which create safer nanoparticles in a more sustainable manner.

Manipulating Titanium Alloy for Precision Devices

When titanium is mixed with one or more particular metal elements such as zirconium, iron or copper, it creates the alloy beta-titanium. Beta-titanium is strong, pliable and easily welded, and has widely replaced stainless steel in the field of orthodontics. The low elastic modulus of beta-titanium wires means they are suitable for braces and retainers where movement of the teeth is required. A Japanese medical device manufacturing company has developed an innovative processing technology for beta-titanium and, with this method, have been able to produce extremely precise and minimally invasive items for endoscopes, needles and catheters. These so-called guidewires mean that more intrusive surgical procedures can be avoided, improving the treatment and recovery time of patients.

3D Printing for Customizable Surgical Instruments

The lightweight and durable quality of titanium alloys also make them highly suited to the manufacture of surgical instruments.  Titanium is resistant to corrosion so it can be sterilized repeatedly without becoming damaged or stained. and, because it is completely anti-magnetic, it is even suitable for use in the potentially hazardous MRI environment. In addition, as titanium is 45% lighter than steel, it is a better choice for avoiding hand fatigue during long surgical procedures. Surgeons increasingly require more refined instruments, modified to suit their particular surgical techniques or to match a patient’s individual needs. Through the use of 3D printing, surgical instruments can be easily customized, and even complex titanium surgical devices such as cutting or drilling guides can be quickly made for individual procedures. 3D printing also allows for the fast production of prototypes so that unique designs can be added to, refined and adjusted if necessary.

Titanium possesses unique qualities that make it ideal for use in the medical industry. When its compounds or alloys are combined with cutting edge technology and processes, it produces exceptional, high quality medical devices, implants and instruments. When made into a foam, it can replicate the strength and porous quality of bone. As an oxide it possesses antimicrobial properties, and when combined with other metals can be manipulated into the most precise and unique medical devices and instruments.

Cindy Malcolm, Industry Today
Cindy Malcolm

About the Author
Cindy Malcolm is an experienced freelance and creative writer with a former life in industry. She graduated with engineering as her major and spent many years working in manufacturing before turning to a writing career.

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