Sean Fenske, Editor-in-Chief, MDT
While machining may not be specified as much as it once was in the medical device industry (outside of the orthopedic realm, that is), it is still very much a necessary component fabrication
process for this industry. In fact, machining is being utilized across an array
of device sectors, from surgical tools, fixation devices, and dental implants
to components for medical pumps, instrumentation, and implantables.
“Until science can produce products that can exactly
fit together as a functional bio-structure replacing Mother
Nature’s version, machining of some level is necessary,” ex-
plains Ted Driggs, program management principal engineer
at Okuma ( www.okuma.com).
Machining is still a valuable process for the medical device
designer and can be used in a number of instances where it
offers a lower cost alternative to other component fabrication methods.
Since medical devices are so critical, ensuring their proper function is paramount to the designers developing them. As such, when tasked with specifying machined components, setting higher tolerances must be better…
right? Unfortunately, ensuring that a part meets such exacting requirements can add additional, yet unnecessary, costs to a project. The reality is
that a machining specialist can determine the right course of action when
it comes to specifying a machined component for a particular device better
than most design engineers.
Dan Grosberger, tooling supervisor at Crescent Industries
( www.crescentind.com), explains, “Design engineers may have a tendency to
call out more dimensional requirements and tighter tolerances than is actual-
ly necessary for required functionality. The way to avoid this type of mistake
is partnering with your vendor in the early stages of product
development and design phase for manufacturability.”
Greg Thompson, VP of engineering at Sanmina Medical
Division ( www.sanmina.com), highlights a second challenge
that his company is mindful of. “Two areas that Sanmina
focuses on to avoid errors are ensuring that we consider
part resonances to avoid failures and stresses induced
by machining resonance, and ensuring that tolerancing is appropriately
specified to avoid unnecessarily increasing the machining cost.”
Both make a good argument for partnering with a reliable machining
expert early in the development process to avoid these or other oversights.
The trend toward miniaturization in the medical device realm impacts all
areas, from molded parts to electronic components to machined pieces.
Micro machining addresses this need while still maintaining the ability to
offer high quality results and exacting tolerances.
Micro parts with precision of better than 0.01 microns are currently
practical. This enables smaller manufactured products, opening up new
possibilities for implantable devices or replacements for certain anatomical
structures,” states Thompson.
Driggs looks ahead at the next step for micro machining and in what direction it could go. “Micromachining and the intricate shapes and features
required from the macro scale are a challenge moving forward. The trend
is to move toward ‘nano’ in the medical world. There may come a point
where conventional machine tools of today will morph into something yet
imagined when the time arrives.”
The machining of components has a place in medical device manufacturing, and will continue to do so looking ahead. It may have lost a little
ground in terms of how much it is specified, but it is certainly not going
anywhere. And as such, the roundtable contributors are enthusiastic
about machining’s future with some unique ideas on what could be on
“I predict that by using the cloud combined with MRI and CT scan
technologies, there may be a time when medical devices will be partially created to fit the human patient prior to surgery and the final fitting
will come next door to the hospital OR after the surgeon makes his/her
incisions. Laser scanning of the body replacement area will be fed directly
to an OR CAD operator and delivered to the waiting machine tool. End
result is the best ergo fit to the patient instead of machining the patient to
fit the device,” offers Driggs.
Thompson shares his own view, “Further advances are expected in
the precision of the machining equipment along with wider deployment
of more compact and lower cost machining equipment. As the cost and
the size of the machining equipment are reduced, we expect to see more
product assembly lines that include in-line or co-located machining
operations as an integral part of the medical device manufacturing and
While the world of healthcare today appears to be built with molded
plastic, other component fabrication techniques still have a place in the
process. Machining for medical device components offers an array of
advantages that are still not achievable using other methods. And until the
time when there is a suitable alternative, it is critical for medical device
designers to identify machining experts with whom they can partner to
develop the very best device they can while being mindful of controlling
costs and waste—a consideration that a quality machining specialist will be
able to accommodate. ■
The Fine Art of Machining
The trend is to move toward ‘nano’
in the medical world.