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and 50% titanium, the shape-memory alloy. It’s a very expen- sive material, and you waste a lot of money.”


Fine Laser Cutting Laser cutting technology’s advantages play to medical


manufacturing’s requirements for high cut quality in a non- contact, highly flexible process, notes Geoff Shannon, laser technology manager, Miyachi Unitek Corp. (Monrovia, CA), a developer of laser welding, marking and cutting systems. “In recent years, there’s been a lot of movement in medical to laser welding for the obvious reasons—noncontact, very flexible, highly controllable, and you can weld really small parts, which is obviously very good for the medical industry.” Medical device builders have shown increasing interest


in lasers for cutting many different devices, from cannulars, needles, arthroscopic devices, endoscopes and other products, Shannon notes. “It’s all minimally invasive tooling, so the tools are very thin tubing, and normally they need to have some slots or holes for other things to either attach or kind of be fed through,” he says. “One of the considerations with the picosecond lasers is


that they are certinaly not cheap, with a system costing you around half-a-million dollars. However, the $64,000 question is does the laser offer such a unique process that the product improvement can justify this level of investment?” Fiber lasers are the focus for Miyachi Unitek cutting systems,


which typically use a 100 or 200-W single-mode fiber laser for medical cutting applications, Shannon says, noting that the la- sers offer the ability to cut parts with diameters of about 0.050" to 0.25" (0.13–6 mm) with wall thicknesses of about 0.003 to 0.020" (0.076–0.51 mm). “Tis represents quite a broad range of cutting capability, and there’s a lot of different features that you can do with lasers,” he says, “such as the single-sided slots, win- dows, on axes and off-axes features and spirals for many flexible shaſt, hypotube, and cannula applications. “Traditionally the medical industry has used a lot of EDM


technology, both wire EDM and sinker EDM, and while wire EDM is still quite prevalent, sinker EDM is normally used for single-sided features,” he adds, “and it is much, much slower than laser cutting—significantly slower than laser cutting.” With wire EDM, medical manufacturers can cut out teeth


on arthroscopic tools for knee surgery, he says. “If you have symmetric teeth on both sides of the tube, wire EDM is great, because it’s like a cheese cutter, and you can rack up 10 or 15 of these parts and you can cut more than one at once. So the advantage with wire EDM is, in some instances, you can gang up multiple parts, so although the cutting speed is slow, you’re cutting 15 parts in one go.” Lasers can do the same thing, but only on one part at a


time, and it offers features that you can’t attain with an EDM process, Shannon says. “It offers the capability to give you different angles on different geometries that they cut, and


being able to cut 3-D shapes in the tube without having to take the part out, re-tool it, put it back in, or take it over to another machine,” he adds. “So there are some advantages there for the lasers in multiple areas, particularly in the sinker EDM, which is probably four to five times slower, if not more, than laser cutting. When you look up the price per part, it’s significantly more than laser cutting, and that’s obvi- ously driving a lot of the changeover.”


Price Pinching in Medical Te medical industry has always been cost-conscious but in


recent years it has become much more so. “Perhaps four–five years ago, it probably wasn’t quite as aggressive as it is right now,” Shannon notes. “What’s also driving laser cutting is the high-speed/high-quality capability—laser are very flexible and cut lots of materials, thicknesses, shapes and high-mix parts.” For most medical applications, high-precision cutting is a


given on parts requiring the highest accuracy possible. With the growing numbers of aging Americans requiring ever- increasing joint replacement surgeries, the medical market remains strong, notes Mazak Optonics’ Keith Leuthold. Mazak Optonics’ STX 44 laser is specifically aimed at


medical products that can be accommodated on the unit’s 4 × 4' (1.2 × 1.2-m) table, he says. “What makes this machine unique is that it’s a precision ballscrew,” he says. “When deal- ing with customers’ medical components, they not only need high precision but stability.” Te STX 44 system features a cast-iron frame made of Meehanite, he says, offering stiffer properties than standard granite. Te biggest problem of any machine is the vibration, and the size of a laser beam is about four to six thousandths in diameter,” he states. “Te precision on how to focus that beam is crucial. A human hair is about two thousandths.”


Hybrid Lasers Cut Bone Saws With the latest-generation hybrid HVII laser system


from Mitsubishi Laser/MC Machinery Inc. (Wood Dale, IL), one medical customer cuts saws used in knee replacement surgeries, notes Jeff Hahn, Mitsubishi Laser national product manager. Te hybrid laser offers better accuracy and a simpler machine tool design, with the stability inherent in the system’s cast frame made from Dianite, which Hahn says is Mitsubi- shi’s version of Meehanite. “Generally, the hybrid has the best accuracy,” Hahn notes. “Bone saws are generally a very intri- cate piece, and it’s nothing that you’re going to go fast at. But with the 2-D hybrid 2-kW laser, in this application, it’s cutting thin stainless at about 0.0060" (0.152-mm) thicknesses, and when you’re using nitrogen-assist, it will give you a low HAZ.” Te HV II machine, which Mitsubishi demonstrated at


Fabtech 2011, features the company’s latest M700 series control with a 15" (380-mm) color touchscreen display. Te HVII series is available with either a 2, 3, or 4-kW laser resonator.


Medical Manufacturing 2013 81


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