Machining and laser processing continue to gain traction in the medical device industry, thanks in part to the growing need for microscale medical devices-especially for minimally invasive procedures, which require smaller devices with unique dimensions and tight tolerances. As medical devices get smaller and more complex, machinists must have the equipment, skills, and know-how to deliver the micron-scale features and precision these products require.
Whether machining requires a computer numerical control (CNC) machine or a laser depends on the design and feature requirements of the device. To be competitive, machine partners must stay current on the technology advancements in the machining/laser processing world and have the knowledge and expertise to push their processes to the limit.
"The state of machining is quite advanced in the medical industry, due to a willingness to embrace process improvement in all areas and to push the current manufacturing systems to get the quickest and most cost-effective process," said Florian Dierigl, business development manager for the medical industry for TYROLIT, an Austria-based manufacturer of bonded grinding, cut-off, finishing, drilling, and dressing tools.
CNC machine manufacturers continue to add more capabilities to their equipment, such as better processing control of raw materials, Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, advanced but easy-to-use interfaces, and improved software and cloud interactions. CNC machines are hard to beat for bulk material removal; lasers tend to be more efficient for profiling and drilling fine features, particularly through thin materials. Steady advances in laser micromachining, especially the use of femtosecond-pulsed laser systems, make them competitive with conventional machining methods, including electrical discharge machining (EDM).
"Lasers are very effective for holes and slots--two-dimensional features that are through features," said Tim Hoklas, senior director of technical solutions for Viant, a Foxborough, Mass.-based strategic design and manufacturing partner to the medical device industry. "CNC is better for three-dimensional features such as turning, milling, and blind holes/features."
"Miniaturization continues to be a driving trend in the medical device industry, especially for medical procedures that require micro-scale components such as ophthalmic, neurovascular, cardiovascular, and structural heart therapies," said Kevin Hartke, chief technology officer for Resonetics, a Nashua, N.H.-based micromanufacturer of components and assemblies for medical device and diagnostics companies.
Both conventional CNC machining and laser processing are valuable manufacturing methods for these devices. Although standard machining is generally preferred for cutting, lasers can make features as small as 10 pm (0.0004 inches). OEMs often request features with single-micron tolerances, which is difficult to achieve with conventional machining. Although CNC micromachining is becoming competitive for cutting extremely fine features, lasers also have other valuable applications, such as texturing and welding.
"For the range of feature sizes and the soft polymer materials we specialize in, the laser is often the only manufacturing solution for the features our clients desire," said Matthew Nipper, director of engineering at Laser Light Technologies, a Hermann, Mo.-based full-service laser solutions provider to the medical device, life science, and microelectronics industries. "Laser machining does not necessarily displace conventional machining, but it is absolutely critical...