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Lasers Advance Medical Device Miniaturization

 Scott Sullivan








 By Scott Sullivan
Business Development Manager

The trends in medical devices today are clear: smaller, more effective, more reliable and less invasive. Breakthrough devices are continually being developed with the potential to raise the quality of treatment and produce better outcomes for patients. The challenge facing the industry, however, is developing the manufacturing techniques to allow dramatically miniaturized devices to be produced in sufficient volume and at attractive enough prices so they are available to the majority of people requiring them.

As miniaturized medical devices move into the mainstream, manufacturers are increasingly adopting many of the high-volume processing techniques now being used in consumer products manufacturing to produce ever smaller and more capable smartphones and wearable devices. As devices shrink and materials evolve, traditional machining techniques are reaching their practical limits, leading to a rapidly growing adoption of laser-based micro-machining tools

Laser micro-machining of metals, plastics, composites, glass, ceramics, and bioresorbable polymers supports the miniaturization trend in a number of ways including reduced contamination and burring when cutting materials, increased strength of bonds and improved quality of secure and trackable markings.   

Clean cuts

When a large piece of metal is machined using mechanical methods such as milling there is little thought given to heat. This is because coolant floods the part plus the mass will carry heat away from the area being machined. These options are not viable as part sizes decrease. In contrast, modern ultra-short picosecond and femtosecond pulse length lasers can remove material using a process called cold ablation. Little heat is absorbed by the workpiece as a result of the combination of low energy, short pulse duration, and high repetition rates. The result is a cut edge characterized by a small, almost immeasurable heat-affected zone (HAZ).

Burr-free cutting is another benefit of lasers, and essential for miniaturized medical devices. At such small sizes post-process cleaning is not always an option.  The burrs from traditional methods can be as large as or larger than the feature size. Using a laser allows sheets, assemblies, tubes, and finished parts to be sized, singulated, edges refined and injection molded parts de-gated all without burring problems.

Stronger bonds

Traditional bonding methods such as gluing, crimping, TIG welding, resistance welding, spin welding, soldering and brazing can all be replaced with laser welding. For bonding dissimilar metals, heat sensitive devices or instances where thermal distortion or chemical outgassing are a concern, laser welding has been shown superior in reliability even when the contact area has been reduced.

Laser ablation can be also used to improve traditional bonding methods. Instead of blanket surface modifications such as grit blasting, laser ablation can create complex surface patterns and textures. Surface area is increased for chemical bonding and more locations for keying and physical bonding are created. As a result, the strength of metal to plastic bonds in general and bonds of hypotubes or wires prior to insert molding are significantly higher.

Making a mark

Two trends in the medical device industry in conflict with each other are miniaturization and traceability. As devices and components shrink, traditional marking methods such as inkjet or pad printing are no longer sufficient. Widely used in smartphone manufacturing, laser marking enables the creation of high-contrast, high-resolution marks that can be made very small and readily be applied to curved or contoured surfaces. Newer lasers can create indelible 2D symbols so small that they are invisible to the naked eye

The importance of manufacturing reliable devices in medical is greater than other industries.  If your cell phone breaks you miss a call. If your medical device breaks your health is impacted. As the benefits of smaller devices help improve the quality of life, the ability to manufacture these devices to the highest precision, reliability and traceability are more important than ever and laser micro-machining processes are playing a more important role.


About the Author

Scott Sullivan is a Business Development Manager at ESI.  He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Materials Engineering and a Master of Business Administration.  Over the past 28 years Scott has been involved in bringing enabling technologies to the optical, medical and semiconductor markets. He has focused his work on cutting, drilling, welding and surface modification of materials. During the last 17 years the methods of choice have been lasers and superabrasives.

Published Date : 4/6/2016

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