Competition in the medical industry has been increasing every year. The urgent need for lower-cost medical devices and surgical tools, along with many countries’ aging populations, have led to innovation is manufacturing, especially with the introduction of laser cutting, welding, drilling, and marking for medical applications. The smaller, lighter-weight, and more intricate medical devices and surgical tools now preferred by doctors and patients, are largely enabled by the capabilities of laser machining, for example, laser machining plastics and new alloys, such as nitinol.
Many of the latest medical devices and surgical tools benefit from new laser-cutting techniques, which enable complex component geometries, minimal debris generation, a contamination-free process, no distortion, extreme repeatability, processing speed, and low costs. Laser cutting can be done with complex two-dimensional shapes, as well as complex three-dimensional structures and tubing. These benefits are key in the manufacture of innovative stents, heart valves, orthopedic devices/assemblies, and minimally invasive devices commonly used in ophthalmic surgery, laparoscopy, and arthroscopy.
One key advantage of laser cutting for medical applications, is that modern lasers can be adjusted to cut most materials used for medical devices and surgical tools without special processing and without leaving contaminating residues. Furthermore, the burr-free cutting and precise edges and curves achieved from laser cutting further reduce processing time and costs, as many secondary processes can be eliminated.
Unlike traditional drilling technologies, laser drilling offers speed, cost, and other process benefits, which are ideally suited to manufacturing complex flat or shaped/contoured components with virtually no fixturing. The fact that there is virtually no tool wear with laser-drilling machines means that there is also virtually no downtime for tool exchange and no loss of consistency between drill holes. As laser drilling doesn’t distort or damage a material outside of the drill hole, fine meshes and screen filters, such as for nebulizers, can be rapidly machined to extremely small and delicate dimensions.
The miniaturization, new materials, and need for lower cost and consistency for medical-device and surgical-tool manufacture has also led to a rise in laser welding for medical applications. Laser welding offers significantly enhanced repeatability, process control, process efficiency, and high-yield hermetic welds, compared to traditional welding. Moreover, the non-contact and small HAZ welding from lasers reduces, or eliminates, process and quality concerns over tool wear, excessive heating, contact damage, and debris/contamination.
As modern laser welders have a wide range of controllable settings, process optimization can be more readily achieved, with much greater repeatability. Also, the weld finish after a laser weld is very smooth, pit-free, and conducive to autoclave sterilization. Lastly, laser welding is an excellent option for hermetically sealing implantable medical devices, as hermetic seals done with laser welds present high yields and and low costs for high-volume manufacturing.
Marking, etching, and engraving is used extensively in the medical industry to provide quality and control for tracking and identification of components, devices, and surgical tools. Laser marking, etching, and engraving is an ideal, permanent solution for modern medical applications, as laser machining produces results that don’t fade, flake, or degrade, even under extreme passivation and sterilization cleaning processes. Also, laser marking can be performed on a wide variety of materials, sizes, and shapes, all while offering extremely clear and high-resolution numbers, logos, devices, and letters. Moreover, laser marking, etching, and engraving can be done with little to no fixturing, for flat and complex/contoured shapes, without any reduction in machining quality.