Honeycomb plastics the future for prosthetic design

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A NEW form of lightweight, impact-resistant plastic-based ‘honeycomb’ structures which can sense when they have been damaged could find use in new forms of ‘smart’ prosthetics and medical implants. 

In a new paper published today in the journal Materials & Design, a University of Glasgow-led team of engineers have used 3D printing techniques to add new properties to a plastic known as polyether ether ketone, or PEEK.

PEEK’s mechanical properties and resistance to high temperatures and chemicals have made it useful for a wide range of applications in the aerospace, automotive and oil and gas sectors. 

Dr Kumar of university of glasgow| Research News Scotland
Dr Shanmugam Kumar, of the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering, is the corresponding author of the paper (Photo from Glasgow University)

The team added microscale carbon fibres to their cellular PEEK structures, giving the usually non-conductive material the ability to carry an electric charge throughout its structure.

Dr Shanmugam Kumar, of the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering said: “The unique properties of PEEK have made it invaluable to many industrial sectors, and we hope that the carbon-fibre engineered PEEK cellular structures that we’ve been able to build via 3D printing will open up further possibilities. 

“3D printing gives us a remarkable amount of control over the design and density of the cellular structure.

“That could allow us to build materials which more closely resemble the physiology of the native bone than the solid metal alloys traditionally used in medical implants like hip or knee replacements, potentially making them more comfortable and effective. 

“We hope that these cellular forms of microengineered lightweight, self-sensing PEEK we’ve developed will find new applications in a wide range of fields, not just in prosthetics and other medical devices but also in automobile design, aerospace engineering, and the oil and gas sector.”