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Medical Manufacturing’s Strength Helps Swiss Turning

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

Over the past 12 months, medical has been one of the most consistent manufacturing sectors amid steady demand. In turn, that has been a boost for makers of Swiss-style CNC automatic lathes, known for their ability to produce small parts. That’s because medical devices and implants require complex, precision engineered parts.

“The medical manufacturing industry is very stable because of the human need for well-being,” said George Bursac, general manager for Star CNC Machine Tool Corp. (Roslyn Heights, NY). “It has helped people to live longer and more productive lives.”

Star CNC’s Swiss-type machines, he said, “are used to manufacture components such as bone screws, as well as the implant and surgical instruments used in conjunction with these type of surgeries.”

“Demand is never satisfied,” said Paolo Musante, managing director of DMG Mori’s Gildemeister Italiana SpA Swiss machines unit. In many developed nations, he said, health systems are supported by governments and aren’t “following the typical market rules.”

Gildemeister Italiana estimated about 1000 Swiss-style machines are sold in the US annually, with about 20% intended for medical applications.

“Innovation taking place throughout the medical device community is moving at a staggering pace,” said John Murphy, vice president at Morris Group Inc. (Windsor, CT), parent company of Tsugami/Rem Sales, which distributes Tsugami LaserSwiss machines. “New products, which make the patient experience better, will continue to drive activity in this sector.”

The medical market has seen increased customization. Makers of implants and devices have moved to producing products that more closely meet the needs of patients, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Executives of companies that produce Swiss-style machines say they’re in a position to adapt to the change.

A Marubeni Citizen-Cincom machine uses a laser to machine a part. (Company photo)

At Maurbeni Citizen-Cincom Inc. (Allendale, NJ), “If an orthopedic bone screw needs to be customized, a Cincom machine that is already set up to run bone screws can be adjusted to make the customized part in as little as 10 minutes,” said Glen Crews, the company’s regional sales manager. “The fact that our machines can be changed over so rapidly has allowed them to be used in both an R&D capacity as well as high-volume production.”

The medical market also is seen as a growth area for additive manufacturing, where parts are printed layer by layer from a digital design. Additive has the potential to be the ultimate in customization. But the Swiss machine makers don’t see that as a threat and that it may have the possibility to send more medical business their way.

“In our opinion, subtractive manufacturing in the medical industry is here to stay,” Star CNC’s Bursac said. The company’s R&D concentrates on “developing new technologies to meet the industry’s need for the production of precision parts…This trend will continue.”

“Additive manufacturing is still a time consuming process limited for the most part to manufacturing parts out of plastics or composites,” Crews of Maurbeni Citizen-Cincom said. “For the foreseeable future, subtractive manufacturing will remain the primary manufacturing method for medical parts. Pricing pressure and volumes dictate that the most efficient manufacturing methods be used.”

Additive manufacturing is expanding as more metal materials become available for 3D printing. Even so, “Additive will only help expand the market,” said Murphy of Morris Group. “The final product will still require machining operations before the part is usable.”

What follows is a more detailed look at the companies and their strategies for the medical market.

‘Very Flexible’

In 2014, Tsugami/Rem Sales launched the Tsugami S206 LaserSwiss, a six-axis Swiss-type lathe with an integrated laser cutting system. Last year, it came out with the S205 LaserSwiss, a five-axis version. The company is expanding the Tsugami LaserSwiss lineup with three new models to be announced later this year.

LaserSwiss is aimed specifically for machining medical parts. Murphy said it was in development for two years before its 2014 introduction.

A Tsugami laser head in action. Sample parts are shown in the inset images. (Company photo)

“This product has continued to go through upgrades since then and is a very viable … tool for today’s medical device manufacturers,” Murphy explained. “The R&D that has proven most beneficial has been on the applications side of the machine tool. With a few years under our belt, we are able to produce very complex parts today that could not be done before.”

The company also is addressing the customization issue via another Morris Group division, Innovative Machinery Group. IMG designed and developed the first LaserSwiss machines and is working to expand the product line.

“The machinery that we sell is very flexible and can be used to produce complex and very small lot sizes of parts,” Murphy said. “As the demand for more part customization increases, we will help manufacturers respond.”

Also an issue is more difficult-to-machine alloys. “These types of materials fit nicely in the machine tools we sell,” he said. The company’s engineering staff “is fluent in the varying methods required by these unique materials.”

Importance of R&D

Marubeni Citizen-Cincom is looking to R&D and technology investments to stay on top of the medical market.

“Citizen Machinery Co. in Japan invests approximately 25% of its profits into R&D every year,” Crews said. The company is “always trying to improve on existing machines to better meet the market needs. New machines are introduced about every two years.” The company introduces these machines at the Japanese International Machine Tool Fair (JIMTOF) in Tokyo or IMTS in Chicago.

The company also has an engineering technology center, which develops attachments for its machines. Marubeni Citizen-Cincom recently introduced a laser cutting attachment that is now available on its L-Series Swiss turning machines. “By adding the laser cutter, we have combined two different technologies onto one machine,” Crews said.

As for difficult-to-machine materials, “Our machines have always been able to machine these difficult materials,” Crews said. “With the right cutting tools, our machines have the rigidity required to machine these materials consistently.”

‘Fully Engaged’

Star CNC’s Bursac said his company “is fully engaged in developing new products that meet and exceed the needs and demands of this rapidly changing industry. Our success depends on it.” Star CNC introduces “one new machine per year at least” and sometimes more, he said.

Most Star CNC machines can be used in the medical industry, according to the company. Models used in medical include the SR-20 line.

The SR-20RIII is the company’s newest machine, according to Star CNC’s website. Standard accessories include a pneumatic unit, C-axis control, back four-spindle unit, four-spindle sleeve holder and parts ejection detector. Optional accessories include a tool setter, three-spindle front drilling unit and broken drill detector.

“We are seeing a high percentage of Star CNC machines being used for the processing of titanium, which is not difficult to machine,” Bursac said. “Sharp tooling is required with high pressure coolant for chip removal and cooling.

“Cobalt chromium and nickel, however, are much more difficult to machine,” he said. “For these applications, our machines are especially rigged….Success in the machining of these materials requires programmers who have extensive knowledge regarding the feeds and speeds which the tools can take.”

A medical implant made by DMG Mori’s Gildemeister Italiana.

New Models

Gildemeister Italia has introduced three new product lines, each with four new models, since 2013. The product line related to medical is the new Sprint 20 – 32. It began with the Sprint 20 l 5 in June 2014, followed by Sprint 32 l 5 and 32 l 8 in October 2015 and Sprint 20 l 8 in February.

The new models demonstrate DMG Mori’s investment and “more active commitment in the Swiss market, both on a local and global scale,” Musante said. “We are still developing this product line and plan to further invest in Swiss-style machines. We come out with a machine every six months.”

“The medical market is going to increase,” Musante said. “We have to invest and establish our presence.”

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