Analysis of biomechanical behavior of 3D printed mandibular graft with porous scaffold structure designed by topological optimization
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Our long-term goal is to design and manufacture a customized graft with porous scaffold structure for repairing large mandibular defects using topological optimization and 3D printing technology. The purpose of this study is to characterize the mechanical behavior of 3D printed anisotropic scaffolds as bone analogs by fused deposition modeling (FDM).
Cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) images were used to reconstruct a 3D mandible and finite element models. A virtual sectioned-block of the mandible was used as the control group and the trabecular portion of the block was modified by topological optimization methods as experimental groups. FDM (FDM) printed samples at 0, 45 and 90 degrees with Poly-lactic acid (PLA) material under a three-point bending test. Finite element analysis was also used to validate the data obtained from the physical model tests.
The ultimate load, yield load, failure deflection, yield deflection, stress, strain distribution, and porosity of scaffold structures were compared. The results show that the topological optimized graft had the best mechanical properties.
The results from mechanical tests on physical models and numerical simulations from this study show a great potential for topological optimization and 3D printing technology to be served in design and rapidly manufacturing of artificial porous grafts.
Keywords3D printing Anisotropic behavior Finite element analysis Fused deposition modeling Mandibular graft Poly-lactic acid Topological optimization
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene
Cone beam computed tomography
Fused deposition modeling
Finite element modeling
Autograft and allograft are commonly used for bone grafting procedures to repair segmental bony defects, which usually result from trauma, infection and tumor resection of tumors [1, 2, 3]. The limitations of autografts are donor site morbidity , lack of bone volume for a large defect [5, 6], and possible nerve damage. While allografts are limited by anatomical variations, genetic differences, and possible disease transmission [7, 8]. It is important to restore a critical-sized mandibular defect to its original size and shape to achieve desirable facial esthetics and functional outcome for subsequent prosthetic reconstruction. Microvascular free fibular graft is a common method for mandibular reconstructions to repair a large segmental defect [9, 10, 11, 12]. It is impossible of using a fibular bone to match the shape and size of the resected portion of a mandible. Therefore, there are many prosthetic complications for those patients who received surgical and prosthetic reconstruction of the mandible . One promising approach for obviating the aforementioned complication is the implementation of 3D printing strategies for the manufacturing of customized artificial bio-graft [14, 15].
3D printing is a new digital modeling technology that emerged in the late 1980s. The core processing principle is that based on the principle of layer-by-layer overlay printing. The printing material could accurately be stacked to any shape of 3D complex objects in the control of computer programs [16, 17]. In recent years, more and more attention has been paid to research and development of 3D printing technology in medicine. 3D printing is used to create objects with complex shapes and form. 3D “bioprinting” [18, 19] has a great potential for the application of using biomaterials to print bony defects for mandibular reconstructions resulting from tumor resection and trauma. In some cases, researchers can use 3D printing technology to produce personalized biomaterials that meet clinic needs. Schieker et al.  used 3D printing to create models with intricate internal structures with great precision in the range of micrometer level. The aperture size was as low as 450 μm and the wall thickness was 330 μm. The mechanical strength of the structure was more than 22 MPa, which can meet the general requirements of an organ model. Yang et al.  used nano-hydroxyapatite and polyester microspheres to form polyester and nano-hydroxyapatite composites by 3D printing for medical applications. Habibovic et al.  demonstrated that complex shapes of implants could be 3D printed using calcium hydroxide phosphate and montmorillonite composites at body temperature with good mechanical properties for clinical use. The implanted fillers made from the two materials have varying degrees of osteoconduction and osteoinduction. However, studies found that there are significant changes of the mechanical properties resulting from anisotropy in 3D printing. Fused deposition modeling (FDM) has been widely used in all fields. Poly-Lactic Acid (PLA) is a commonly used material for 3D printing.  Because of the layer-by-layer manufacturing procedure, the model processed by FDM has a layered orthotropic microstructure, in which each layer consists of a contour and infill strips [24, 25, 26]. The infill structures may have different patterns depending on the printers.
Our long-term goal is to develop a new method to overcome the drawbacks of traditional bone grafting procedures for treating segmental bony defects by using 3D printing technology. 3D virtual mandibular grafts were designed based on cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) images and subsequently fabricated by 3D FDM printing for reconstruction of a patient-specific mandibular defect. PLA is a promising thermoplastic aliphatic polyester and has been extensive studies for biomedical applications. It has been proven to be safe in clinical use such as temporary and long-term implantable devices, tissue engineering, and drug delivery systems [27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33]. PLA is a biocompatible material and its biodegradation in vivo is through hydrolysis to convert to water and carbon dioxide. The biodegradation behavior is a critical characteristic of the materials and the most important reason for the high interest in its use in medical applications and industry. It begins to decompose into lactic acid (LA), carbon dioxide and water once in contact with biological media. These products are metabolized in cells or excreted in urine and respiration. The 3D printing of customized grafts consist of the original shape and form of the cortical layer of a segmented mandibular with internal porous scaffold. The internal scaffolds had different strut designs to give strength during masticatory function. Topological optimization process was performed to provide an efficient way for the reduction of structure volume and the improvement of strength and stability [30, 31, 32, 33]. Biomechanical behaviors of three types of grafts were compared and analyzed. The maximum load, yield load, failure deflection and yield deflection were measured from a three-point bending test for each type of the printed grafts. Maximum von Mises stress, principal strain, and displacement were calculated from finite element analysis using numerical simulation models.
Materials & methods
CBCT image, 3D reconstruction and meshing
The triangular mesh is only a surface model. FEM calculation requires a volume mesh (tetrahedron) model. The MIMICS provides a mesh tool named 3-Matic (V8.0) for mesh generation and optimization. 3D virtual models can be smoothed and re-meshed to form volume meshes with high quality for numerical simulation. Geomagic (V12, 3D system, Rock Hill, SC, USA) software was used to complete the final editing of the volume mesh model. A portion of the reconstructed model was extracted for graft designs. The finalized volume mesh model in Geomagic program was directly imported to Abaqus (V6.13, Dassault System, Cedex, France) software for subsequent simulation and calculation.
Material properties of mandible
Mandibular graft design
The shell was to maintain the original shape of the jawbone, and the thickness was set to 1.5 mm. The core was designed by topological optimization in Abaqus to form porous scaffold structure. Topology optimization is a mathematical method, which can optimize material layout and maximize system performance under given conditions. The mathematical model of the topological optimization can be expressed as:
3D printing and anisotropic constitutive model
In addition to the beam samples, the effect of printing angle (00, 450 and 900) of grafts on mechanical strength was also evaluated by a three-point bending test. Four grafts of each printing type were prepared and tested. Maximum load, field load, failure deflection and yield deflection were measured and the biomechanical behavior of each group was compared.
Finite element analysis
Three-point-bending test of beam specimens
Flexural properties of PLA beam specimens with three printing conditions
Printing Angle (degree)
Ultimate Strength (MPa)
Yield Strength (MPa)
Failure Strength (MPa)
Failure Strain (%)
Flexural Modulus (GPa)
Based on the experimental results and computational model calibration, the following values of mechanical parameters were obtained for the anisotropic constitutive model (in the printing plane: E1 = E2 = 1590 MPa, G12 = 722 MPa, perpendicular to the printing plane: E3 = 2050 MPa, G23 = G13 = 560 MPa, v12 = v13 = v23 = 0.42.).
The three-point bending test of grafts
The finite element analysis of grafts
Flexural properties for the PLA grafts
Max Principal Strain (%)
Max Von Mises Stress (MPa)
Max Displacement (mm)
Theoretical Porosity (%)
Real Porosity (%)
PLA has not been currently used as bone analogs for mandibular reconstruction surgery in load-bearing areas. Its excellent biocompatibility and biodegradation properties are important reason for extensively studied in the literature as a scaffolding material for tissue engineering in craniofacial areas. Further strategies to improve its mechanical properties based on PLA modifications and PLA nanocomposite designs may be the key to improve its mechanical properties for mandibular reconstruction. This project is to provide valid information for readers to understand mechanical issues of 3D printed biomaterials.
Comparison of 3D printed beams with different printing angles
The load-deflection curves of Fig. 10 from three-point bending test validate that the direction of printing angle has a substantial effect on the mechanical properties of 3D printed parts. From the load-deflection curves of beam printed at 0-degree angle, the beam showed its elastic property in the initial loading stage. With the load increased, the beam entered the plastic stage, and plastic strain developed and cracked until global damage. The similar trend was observed from the load-deflection curves of beam printed at 45-degree angle. However, the load-deflection curve for beam specimen printed at 90-degree angle doesn’t show apparent yield or horizontal segment. After reaching the peak point, the crack propagates suddenly penetrated through the whole cross-section and the beam fractured into two parts. This is different from the flexural curves for the specimens printed at 0-degree or 45-degree angles, which show slight plastic failure before their rupture occurred.
Figure 11 shows the beam specimens with 0-degree printing angle presents flexural failure and the main cracks appeared in the mid-span and prorogated along the middle axis. The same failure mode can be seen in the beam specimens printed at 45-degree angle with cracks grew along 45-degree printing direction. For the beam specimens printed at 90-degree angle, it presents shear failure with the shear force exceeded the bond strength between the layers. The local failure and global failure occurred at a similar load. The beam was sheared off in the middle of the beam where the highest stress was concentrated.
The data from the three-point bending test of PLA (Table 1) also illustrate that all of the properties exhibit anisotropic behavior with property differences up to 60%. The average ultimate strength of a specimen printed at 0-degree was 54% higher than that of a specimen printed at 90-degree and 34% higher than that of those specimens printed at 45-degree. Similar patterns occurred on the failure stress and yield strength among those three groups. Furthermore, the average strain at failure was almost 2.5 times for the specimen printed at 0-degree than that printed at 90-degree and was also 14% higher than that printed at 45-degree. There was a great effect of printing direction on flexural modulus shown in Table 1. Flexural modulus values of specimens printed at 0-degree were 23% higher than that printed at 90-degree and 41% higher than specimens printed at 45-degree. Overall, beam specimens printed at 0-degree clearly performed the best among the three groups.
Comparison of 3D printed grafts with different printing angles
The load-deflection curves from three-point bending test (Fig. 12) illustrate anisotropic behavior of printed grafts. Similar mechanical behavior trends are observed, i.e., elastic and plastic deformation, of grafts based on printing directions. The data of flexural properties for grafts (Fig. 13) show that the maximum load of each graft printed at 0-degree is much higher than that of 90-degree printed with differences up to 72%. The average failure deflection of grafts printed at 0-degree was much higher than that of 90-degree printed with differences up to 73%. The yield load and deflection are not significantly affected by printing angle. By combining the experimental data and failure mode of grafts, it is found that for grafts printed at 0-degree, local failure started from upper filament layers, the propagation of cracks was perpendicular to the direction of loading. As the deflection increased, the tensile force between the bottom filament layers exceeded the bond strength; the crack opening began to grow along the printing direction until the global failure occurred. On the contrast, for grafts printed at 90-degree, local failure began from the upper filament and then propagated along the loading direction, the global failure occurred at almost the same time since the bonding between the adjacent filaments was weak, and the cracks could easily penetrate through the whole filament layers. It explains why the direction of main crack propagation in Fig. 14 are different from grafts printed with 00 and 900. Also, it matches with the obtained results that the maximum load and deflection for grafts printed with 00 are much higher than that of grafts printed with 900.
Comparison of the topological optimized graft with other designed grafts
The results of the finite element analysis of mechanical behaviors of the printed grafts are presented in Table 2. The maximum principal strain (%), Von Mises stress (MPa), and displacement (mm) of the topological optimized grafts decreases 73%, 65%, and 74% respectively when compared to those with round-pore structure design. Comparing to the square-pore structure, the optimized structure has a decrease of 51% in maximum principal strain, 31% in maximum stress, and 55% in displacement. The maximum Von Mises stress distribution of grafts (Fig. 15) indicates that the stresses are always concentrated at the top aspect of the graft. The same pattern is observed with maximum displacement. The topological optimized graft has significantly better results as most of the meshes keep very small stress and the maximum stress is well below the allowable stress (σ = 90 MPa). In order to compare the mechanical behavior of designed grafts with human natural mandible, the model of original structure of the mandible was built with the material parameters obtained from the CBCT files described in 2.2 under using Abaqus. The maximum principal strain, maximum Von Mises stress, and maximum displacement of original mandible model are 0.232%, 15.427 MPa, and 0.090 mm respectively. The topological optimized graft has the mechanical properties close to the real bone in terms of the maximum Von Mises stress and maximum displacement. The maximum principal strain of the optimized graft is slightly higher than that of the human mandible, which may be led by the difference of Young’s modulus and density between the bone and PLA material. The average Young’s modulus and density of bone in this patient are 10GPa and 1500 kg/m3, which is much higher than that of the PLA materials with 2GPa and 1200 kg/m3. However, the mechanical properties of the other two designed grafts are relatively poor, which cannot provide a good environment for defect repair in clinic.
The real porosity (%) of the topological optimized graft is 65, which increases 15% when compared to the grafts with square-pore structure. Although the porosity of topological optimized graft is lower than graft with round-pore scaffold structure, the strength and stiffness are significantly improved. The results verify that the topological optimization method is capable of optimizing the grafts by assigning more strut elements to the stress concentration area and removing strut elements from the low-stress area. In this way, graft can have higher space utilization, higher strength and stability, and more uniform stress distribution. However, these two conventional grafts use uniform configuration of strut elements, which can cause stress concentration and material waste. Overall, the printed graft designed by topological optimization method provides high strength, stiffness, and porosity that can provide a conducive environment from mechanical and biological perspectives.
A new method of restoring segmental bony defects of the mandible to its exact original shape, size and form is proposed by using 3D printing technology and topological optimization method. 3D printing technology can easily fabricate complex shapes to match patients’ unique defects. The 3D printed graft samples had anisotropic properties. Printing direction and internal design of the grafts significantly affected their mechanical properties. The grafts printed at 0° with topology optimization had the best results. Although the results of this study are based on PLA material, the proposed methodologies are also applicable to other promising 3D printing materials such as Polyetheretherketone (PEEK). 3D printing technology and topological optimization are useful tools in fabrication and designing bone analogs for mandibular reconstruction.
The James Hayward Research Fund funds the article processing charge for this publication.
The project is partially supported by the James Hayward Research Fund.
Availability of data and materials
Readers interested in data should contact the authors.
JH conducted experiments, collected data and drat the manuscript; JHW conceived the study, interpret the data and revised the manuscript; RW: designed the study and interpreted the data; YL, XY, and DAB: edited the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Ethics approval and consent to participate
Consent for publication
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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