Machining with surgical precision

An ageing global population is driving extraordinary growth in the market for medical equipment, which is placing huge demands on suppliers to the sector, in terms of both product quality and lead times. We examine the key machining issues and offer some solutions.

An increasingly ageing demographic is playing an important part in continuing to drive growth across the medical equipment sector. Whether it is orthopaedic devices, such as knee or hip replacement parts, bone screws or surgical instruments, dental or orthodontic implants, the market continues to grow rapidly and is placing ever more demands on its supplier base. What’s more, the equipment being manufactured is often made of exotic metals, such as titanium or cobalt chrome, which demand high performance agile machines and the latest innovative cutting solutions.

Those suppliers that have invested in the latest metal cutting technologies are proving adept at meeting these demands, in terms of both product quality and the short lead times expected by the major players in the sector. Specifically, medical manufacturing, particularly amongst the many subcontract manufacturers who form a vital part of the supply chain, demands compact machines that can perform multiple tasks in order to cut the complex shapes required, by orthopaedic instruments for example.

Solutions for speed and precision

Solutions for speed and precision

Medical manufacturers require high-speed machines that can accurately cut small, complex parts from tough materials. This must be allied to high-speed, high-performance spindles that produce superior surface finishes. However, whilst the machining is complex, and quality standards are high, there can be no compromise on production efficiency as the industry drives to achieve a lower cost base.

For these reasons, Mazak’s INTEGREX i-series machines are the trusted choice of many medical equipment manufacturers across the world, offering DONE-IN-ONE solutions with full multi-tasking and 5-axis machining, capable of producing the contours and shapes required with the superior part surface finishes that are expected. The INTEGREX i-100ST and its sister machine, the i-150, are ideal for small complex parts production. The machines combine the capabilities of a high-powered turning centre with a full-functioning 5-axis machining centre to produce parts in single set-ups, which offers dramatic reductions in lead-time and improved part accuracy. With 5-axis machining, greater production benefits can be attained when allied to an automation solution.

The compact INTEGREX i-100 BARTAC-ST Multi-Tasking machine, with its largest in class 102mm diameter bar capacity, employs two turning spindles, a lower turret and a fully contouring B-axis housing a milling spindle for full 5-axis machining and DONE-IN-ONE operations, making it perfect for the processing of small complex parts, such as surgical instruments and hip stems. The machine's Intelligent Bar Loader System, combined with integrated work unloading, optimises lights-out and unmanned running, which can dramatically reduce production costs.

Solutions for difficult to cut materials

Difficult to cut materials

The high speed cutting of difficult-to-cut materials, such as titanium and non-ferrous metals, is a pre-requisite for many medical manufacturers, particularly those involved in the production of orthopaedic parts, such as knee and hip joints.

The VARIAXIS i-500 is an ideal choice for this type of work, with the ability to performs multiple and complex-curved surface machining on small workpieces with high-precision requirements. Crucially, this type of machining requires high speed alongside accuracy and the VARIAXIS offers exceptional levels of productivity due the range of spindles available, including the extremely fast, 25,000rpm spindle.

Turning solutions for medical industry

Turning solutions

It must be remembered however, that not all medical applications require either 5-axis or a multi-tasking solution. Many applications require a turning solution, but one which is allied to high spindle power.

The ideal solution for the medical sector is the QUICK TURN 250 MSY, a high performance turning centre that is equipped with second spindle and Y-axis capability and which boasts a newly designed turret featuring Mazak’s new 10,000rpm Smooth Mill Drive. The machine is also equipped with the ergonomically designed SmoothG control, including 3D Assist for fast and efficient programming and enhanced Intelligent Thermal Shield for optimised machining accuracy.

Medical equipment production

Medical equipment

The medical sector also includes products such as hospital furniture that require tube cutting capabilities. The Mazak SPACE GEAR 510 Mk II is a 2D/3D laser cutting machine capable of cutting either flat sheet or tubes, pipes, and structural shapes, with the help of a CNC rotary chuck and supports for long workpieces.

The 3D mode makes use of a compact cutting head with ±360° rotation in the A-axis and ±135° in the B-axis to maintain a normal cutting angle to all preformed sculptured surfaces. A non-contact profiler maintains a constant stand-off distance and eliminates marring of the part. In all, six axes of CNC control allow the cutting of weld preps, angled features, and much more in a single set-up. The cutting of reflective materials, such as aluminium, gold, copper, brass and bronze, with CO2 lasers has always proved to be problematic. One option for the medical sector is the OPTIPLEX FIBER laser cutting series which is designed to process reflective materials at greater speeds than its CO2 counterpart in turn significantly reducing operating costs.

The OPTIPLEX FIBER series is also equipped with Zeta 9 technology, which includes six intelligent set-up functions and three intelligent monitoring functions designed to significantly reduce operator dependency and improve throughput and cut quality. Intelligent functions include auto nozzle changing, focus positioning and auto-profiler calibration, whilst intelligent monitoring functions include pierce, plasma and burn detection. The medical sector requires a huge range of different machining applications, from orthopaedic through to surgical and even hospital equipment. Our advice is to partner with a machine supplier that can offer the necessary breadth of machines and application support that will enable you to choose the best machining and automation solution for your specific requirements.