NiTi-Nb micro-trusses fabricated via extrusion-based 3D-printing of powders and transient-liquid-phase sintering

Acta Biomaterialia 2018 Volume 76, Pages 359-370

We present a novel additive manufacturing method for NiTi-Nb micro-trusses combining (i) extrusion-based 3D-printing of liquid inks containing NiTi and Nb powders, solvents, and a polymer binder into micro-trusses with 0/90° ABAB layers of parallel, ∼600 µm struts spaced 1 mm apart and (ii) subsequent heat-treatment to remove the binder and solvents, and then bond the NiTi powders using liquid phase sintering via the formation of a transient NiTi-Nb eutectic phase. We investigate the effects of Nb concentration (0, 1.5, 3.1, 6.7 at.% Nb) on the porosity, microstructure, and phase transformations of the printed NiTi-Nb micro-trusses. Micro-trusses with the highest Nb content exhibit long channels (from 3D-printing) and struts with smaller interconnected porosity (from partial sintering), resulting in overall porosities of ∼75% and low compressive stiffnesses of 1–1.6 GPa, similar to those of trabecular bone and in agreement with analytical and finite element modeling predictions. Diffusion of Nb into the NiTi particles from the bond regions results in a Ni-rich composition as the Nb replaces Ti atoms, leading to decreased martensite/austenite transformation temperatures. Adult human mesenchymal stem cells seeded on these micro-trusses showed excellent viability, proliferation, and extracellular matrix deposition over 14 days in culture.