Laser Services in the Medical Device Industry

Posted on Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Contrary to what most may assume about a laser job shop, roughly half of our business is in support of the medical device industry. And that work is very diverse. On the front end, we consult with research universities and corporate labs for materials research. On the back end, we work with design engineers on device design and manufacturability. We are also involved with the production of surgical tools, surgical trays, medical adhesives, and implantable materials, to name a few.

We have been in business 35 years, have hundreds of years combined laser experience, and provide a wide range of solutions to customer challenges. We frequently meet with our medical device customers during the beginning stages of their development projects to provide them with necessary input on such topics such as material processing and design for manufacturability. Furthermore, our in-house expertise enables quick-turn prototypes that are crucial for medical research initiatives.

Changes in the development of medical devices

We have observed our work in the medical industry expand beyond simply welding and etching surgical tools. In addition to providing these services, we now also cut a variety of materials including adhesives, implantable meshes, and steel. We’ve also been called in to consult with leading research institutes on materials and designs. The diversity of this work has really been incredible, from the design of ceramics and adhesives for medical screening equipment to the design and manufacturability of next-generation surgical tools and equipment.

For our business, this reflects a growing awareness and acceptance of the versatility of lasers in the larger medical device market. For the industry as a whole, however, this reflects a significant change to innovation and how it’s done. Players in the medical device market are innovating in new and surprising ways like never before. In recent years, customers have presented us with some unexpected opportunities. We’ve been called in to support device and prototype concepts that wouldn’t traditionally have a role for laser services.

Excitement for lasers in the medical device industry

The most exciting aspect of the medical device industry is the collaboration that goes into the innovation itself. We regularly consult with research scientists and design engineers to understand their precise needs. New techniques and processes are constantly being tested on our lasers, all to deliver custom solutions for these unique projects. It really is exciting to be an integral and participating member from project concept through development and into production.

Our enthusiasm for medical innovation extends from management down to the shop floor. Our team is incredibly excited to support these potentially life-changing — and sometimes life-saving — medical applications. They love working on unique, cutting-edge projects. This excitement allows us to turn parts around in a couple of days or less, giving our customers a leg up on their competition when trying to get a product to market. During the initial development stages, we work with customers to get assemblies or parts working. Be it cutting or changing surface material properties with lasers, there are a lot of unique challenges in the medical device industry.

What keeps us up at night?

Simply put: getting the word out to everyone in the industry about the diversity of work we perform. The situation is steadily improving as medical device companies look to different sources of innovation, but we still hear visitors say, I didn’t know you could do that. This comes from the erroneous perception that a laser job shop is basically good for cutting sheet metal, nothing else.

While we do cut sheet metal for things like medical carts or blank out parts for stamping and forming, there is a whole lot more to what we do. Interestingly, in the medical industry, we spend more time cutting polymers than metals. The advantages of lasers are numerous, but of particular interest to a medical device audience is the fact that we have virtually no tooling costs — changes to design can be implemented instantaneously. Also, laser welding has advantages over other joining technologies used in medical in that it is quick, precise, and very repeatable. Finally, laser marking advantages include the fact that it’s permanent and can withstand autoclaving.

Lasers: the future of innovation

We are seeing the cycle time from conceptualization into design and then production continue to be reduced. We have even had customers call requesting the immediate turnaround of a surgical tool for a patient scheduled for surgery later that same day. The trend toward unique, highly specific surgical tools is right in line with what we do as a laser job shop: quick turnaround of the highest quality, excellent planning, highly trained operators, and redundant equipment enabling us to support demand.

New processes for conceptualization, design, production, and even collaboration, will yield all new medical devices. It will continue to be that each progressing year, and certainly each half century, reveals new innovations. As our exposure in medical R and D continues to grow, we’re involved with increasingly innovative and amazing medical device technologies. Specifically, I foresee new surgical tools and new diagnostic testing requiring adhesives, ceramics, rubbers, and plastics.

As a medical device application we’ve supported, implantable devices represent the union of our experience in both medical and electronic fields. Our work has ranged from experimental assemblies that give sight to the blind and electronic assemblies implanted in the brain, to creating new and improved breast cancer screening devices and developing replacement bones. The medical device sector will continue its insatiable demand for custom surgical tools to correct very specific conditions. We will become more involved in the cutting of polymers as DNA screening becomes an everyday tool for doctors. Finally, we’re headed toward the development of implantable electronic assemblies that could, in the future, enhance or entirely replace basic human bodily functions. The future of the medical device industry will be guided by innovation and those who prioritize it.

Check out our medical device industry feature in Medical Design Technology (MDT) Magazine, here and learn more about laser processing services for the precise needs of the medical device, implant, and tooling market here.

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