Features

In the medical device industry, surface texture has become an important aspect of product design. It not only provides the means to refine the physical appearance of an item, but also increases an item’s surface grip qualities. And through surface texturing, manufacturers can create medical tools that pick up less fluid and debris, mark implants for tracking, and add textures that aid in implant acceptance. So it is of no surprise that these medical manufacturers are increasingly seeking ways to improve the level of control exerted in surface texturing. Laser texturing is often the technology of choice and is now applied to many medical parts.

Fig. 1 - With laser texturing, medical manufacturers can create medical tools that pick up less fluid and debris, mark implants for tracking, and add textures that aid in implant acceptance.

In addition to helping manufacturers create better implants and medical tools, laser texturing can also can be used in the production of molds and dies for medical components. These applications have benefitted from recent developments in laser texturing, including the introduction of femto lasers and dual laser systems (see Figure 1).

Femto lasers are the latest laser technology available on the market. These cold lasers create perfectly sharp corners and edges because they generate completely burr-free surfaces (see Figure 2). Burrs are even undetectable when the cutting surface is viewed under a microscope at 200x magnification. This new class of laser opens up a variety of new materials, including ceramics, gems (e.g., sapphire), various polymers, and glass, for medical applications.

Femto lasers are able to cut more intricate patterns than previous laser technologies because the laser beams are smaller and thus can create smaller details in parts. Such intricate cutting capabilities enable laser texturing to be used for even the smallest medical applications.

With femto lasers, it is also possible to generate very fine microstructures that can be measured in nanometers. These microstructures create colors — through a naturally occurring phenomenon — within the finished piece that are visible when held to a light source (see Figure 3).

In addition to the development of femto lasers, the other significant technological breakthrough in laser texturing is the development of five-axis dual-laser systems. A dual-laser system is one that can automatically change its laser source from one type to another within seconds. This allows manufacturers to machine a wider variety of materials on a single machine than with single-laser systems. Such increased versatility means that manufacturers can perform more work from one laser texturing machine than was previously possible.

Fig. 2 - Manufacturing technology OEMs such as GF Machining Solutions continue to advance laser texturing machines with the incorporation of femto cold lasers and five-axis dual-laser systems.

With single laser systems, operators can manipulate the laser’s strength by changing the laser power settings, which gives a certain degree of control, but the ability to change to a different type of laser entirely enables greater control over the laser texturing process. Fast changes between laser sources are especially important for those medical manufacturers that experience frequent shifts in part demands and designs. Those shops depend on flexible equipment to quickly respond to the needs of their customers.

As the use of laser texturing continues to grow, advances such as five-axis machine movement have further improved it. With five-axis capability, manufacturers increase their productivity because this machining process dramatically reduces the need to manually manipulate workpieces during the part production cycle. Laser texturing technology also undercuts round shapes, meaning that the underside of a sphere can be machined without turning the part over. The reduction in necessary setups also eliminates stacked errors from finished parts.

A current limitation to laser texturing is the size of the laser field, which is only as wide as the lens of the laser. Once texturing is complete within that field, the machine must readjust to place an untexturized surface under the lens. However, new technology in automated laser positioning is on the horizon that will eliminate this barrier. Advances in the technology will enable lasers to follow along a machining surface without having to stop and reposition. Automatic adjustments could make the laser texturing process up to 20–30 percent faster than it is currently.

Fig. 3 - As laser beams get smaller, laser texturing systems can be used to create very tiny intricate surface patterns.
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