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Titanium, the Perfect Metal for Making Artificial Joints for the Human Body

Titanium, the Perfect Metal for Making Artificial Joints for the Human Body

Known for its strength and lightness, titanium is an ideal metal for making artificial hip, knee, and other joints for the human body, and is also used in other industries. The name titanium is derived from Titan (the god of sun) in ancient Greek mythology. This completely new element is used in a wide-range of advanced technologies.

With the chemical symbol Ti and atomic number 22, titanium is a low-density, strong, and corrosion-resistant silver metal. This metal (in the form of titanium dioxide) is used for producing paint, paper, toothpaste, sunscreen and cosmetics, and as an alloy in biomedical implants and aerospace innovations. Note that titanium is also used in 3D printing.

Custom Designs in 3D Printing

Since titanium-containing compounds are expensive, their use in traditional processing technologies can cause problems. For example, its high melting point (1670 °C and much higher than steel alloys) is a big challenge on its own.
Due to its accuracy and low cost, using this precious metal in 3D printing is transformative. The 3D printing technology can produce any shape in layers, enabling designers to create amazing shapes.

With this capability, 3D printing can make complex shapes such as artificial jaw, heel, and pelvis joints and the dental implants or plates used in cranioplasty plates (through surgery). This metal is also used for making golf clubs and airplane parts.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) is cooperating with various industries to develop new 3D printing technologies that use titanium. Breakthroughs in 3D printing open up new possibilities for improving the performance of customized titanium implants. Such implants can be designed in light-weight porous form that allow blood, nutrients, and nerves to pass through and promote bone growth.

Safety in the Human Body

Due to its corrosion resistance to body fluids, titanium is considered the most biocompatible, harmless, and non-toxic metal to live tissue. It can withstand the body’s adverse environment due to a protective titanium oxide layer formed naturally on the metal’s surface in the presence of oxygen.

Titanium ability to physically bond with bone also makes it superior to other materials that require adhesives to physically bond with bone. Titanium implants have a longer lifespan and require more force to be removed from the body than similar alternatives.

Often used in implants that bear the body’s weight, titanium alloys are significantly stronger than stainless steel or cobalt-based alloys and function similarly to the human bone.

Where is titanium obtained from?

In natural form, titanium metal is always found in igneous rocks and their sediment derivatives and in a bond with other elements. Ilmenite (a type of iron-titanium oxide, FeTiO3) and rutile (a type of titanium oxide, TiO2) are the most commonly mined titanium-containing materials.

China has abundant Ilmenite reserves, while according to Geoscience Australia, this country has the largest global rutile reserves, i.e. about 40% of the global reserves. Australia’s reserves of this material are mostly found in the eastern, western, and southern shores.

Typically, both materials are extracted from sand, and titanium is separated from the other minerals in sand. With over 1.5 million tons of titanium produced in 2014, Australia is one of the world’s leading titanium producers. With respective titanium production of 1.16 and 1 million tons, South Africa and China rank next.

Titanium is among the ten most abundant elements in the earth’s crust. Currently, the sources of this metal are not at risk, which is good news for the scientists and innovators who are constantly seeking new ways to use titanium to improve human life.