Evonik Invests in Chinese 3D Printing Start-up

15.09.2019 -

Evonik Venture Capital is the lead investor in Chinese start-up Meditool, an innovative Shanghai-based manufacturer of surgical implants printed with polyetherketone (PEEK). The venture capital fund is an offshoot of German chemical and plastics producer Evonik, a major manufacturer of PEEK, which it markets under the Vestakeep trade name.

The Chinese market is the world’s second largest for medical implants, with expected annual growth rates of 10-15%, and the start-up is already recognized as one of the pioneers in developing 3D-printed PEEK medical implants, Evonik said.

Meditool’s technology enables faster recovery and fewer post-operation checks for patients and less surgical risk for doctors, said Bernhard Mohr, head of Evonik Venture Capital. The Shanghai firm’s proprietary hardware and software systems can read and process images directly from commonly used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan devices. The software generates a readily printable 3D model, which is then printed with the PEEK material.

The investment, which Evonik quantifies as being in the “high double-digit million range”, is valuable to its own business as the Chinese technology “pays directly into our strategy of expanding in high-tech applications for our additive manufacturing materials,” said Thomas Grosse-Puppendahl, head of the group’s innovation growth field Additive Manufacturing.

Evonik already has a wide presence in both PEEK and 3D printing. Last year, it launched a PEEK-based polymer filament for 3D printing of medical implants, based on its Vestakeep grade i4 G, a viscous material used in spinal implants, sports medicine, maxillofacial surgery and other medical applications. Related investments additionally include PA 12 powders and flexible polyether block amide (PEBA) powders.

The 3D-printed PEEK implants are regarded as superior to metal in orthopedic implants especially as 3D-printing allows customization, among other things being made to precisely fit the patient’s skull and thus reduce the likelihood of additional operations.

 As the high temperature-resistant plastic is less thermally conductive than metal, so the implant does not heat up or cool down excessively when patients are exposed to extreme temperatures. The material is also biocompatible.