There’s plenty of data in the medical community that has been collected over the years about what kinds of treatments and implants work, and what doesn’t. But remember, while it may seem by now that 3D printing technology has been used in the medical field for a long time, it’s only really been around at all for a few decades. In a new GE Reports edition, GE celebrates the tenth anniversary of the first 3D printed hip implant, and considers its future.

Maria Pettersson, an orthopedic industry specialist with 3D printing company Arcam, which was acquired by GE in 2016, says that it would not be an unusual occurrence for a patient who’s had a traditional hip operation to need their implant replaced in about 10 to 15 years, though this can also be stretched to over 20 years. Arcam knows what it’s talking about when it comes to implants, having entered the 3D printed medical implant space in 2014.

More and more people in the US are having hip replacement surgeries these days, and it’s unlikely that the number will go down, as quality replacements can improve the mobility and quality of life for people. 3D printing technology has improved this surgery over the last several years, as the technology and new materials can be used to produce better, longer-lasting hip implants.

But in the year 2007, replacing someone’s hip with a 3D printed implant was not a common occurrence at all.

Italian surgeon Dr. Guido Grappiolo, of the Fondazione Livio Sciutto ONLUS in Savona, had a female patient that year with advanced arthritis who was in need of a hip replacement. She already had a titanium hip cup that had previously been implanted with screws, but needed a full replacement this time. Dr. Grappiolo partnered with Arcam and Italian orthopedic implant maker LimaCorporate on what ended up being a landmark surgery.

Trabecular titanium [Image: LimaCorporate]

With the help of the two partnering companies, Dr. Grappiolo implanted the Delta-TT Cup, the first 3D printed hip cup in the world, in his patient. TT stands for trabecular titanium, a biomaterial that, according to LimaCorporate, is “characterized by a regular, three-dimensional, hexagonal cell structure that imitates trabecular bone morphology.”

Dr. Grappiolo checked on his patient a few months after the momentous operation, and noted that her CT scan showed that bone tissue was already beginning to grow into the implant’s 3D printed hexagonal cells, which was definitely a good sign.

When asked to remember how the 2007 surgery had gone, Dr. Grappiolo said in a video interview, “From a technical point of view, we immediately got a good feeling of stability.”

Dr. Grappiolo recorded the LimaCorporate video with his patient recently, and asked her to bend her leg backwards toward her chest, to see how the implant was holding up, and helped her rotate the leg.

Dr. Grappiolo reported, “The first patient is doing extremely well.”

Over 100,000 3D printed Arcam hip cups later, and not counting the estimated hundreds of thousands of implants 3D printed by other companies, it seems that patients and their implants are still going strong. However, as there is not yet a frame of reference, there’s not a lot of solid information that can predict just how long a 3D printed hip will last. It helps to know that the patient with the first 3D printed Delta-TT Cup is doing well, and according to a study published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, many other patients are not reporting any major post-operative complications either.

X-ray smart implant – hip [Image: Renishaw]

Since 2007, Dr. Grappiolo has implanted nearly 600 3D printed hip cups by companies like Arcam, while the number his group has implanted is well over 1,500. In his opinion, these 3D printed hip implants could last “a lifetime,” and with new innovations like smart implants on the horizon, it’s hard to disagree.

Thanks to 3D printing technology, orthopedic implant makers like LimaCorporate can customize implant designs so they better fit the needs of the surgeon and the patient, while still maintaining the original structure’s features, like the 3D hexagonal cells on the surface.

The numbers mentioned earlier only cover a small proportion of the total number of hip replacements that hospitals today complete, but according to Pettersson, the demand for 3D printed hip implants is growing.

Pettersson said, “If you’re not in it, you realize you’re behind.”

Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below. 


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