Accu-Tube, Englewood, Colo.
Accu-Tube CEO Kevin McGrath saw a need in the market for less expensive stainless steel thick-wall tubing that could lower the cost of orthopedic drills and reamers and other cutting instruments.
Thick-wall tubing is usually manufactured in a process called gun drilling, which entails using a drill to create a hole through solid stock and produce a cannulated rod. It’s a relatively slow, and therefore expensive, manufacturing process with long lead times, according to Accu-Tube sales director Todd Oehlerking.
Orthopedic drills and reamers that are on the market now are reusable, but the industry would like to find a disposable option, Oehlerking said. Accu-Tube wanted to make its orthopedic thick-wall tubing disposable. An acquisition gave the Englewood, Colo.-based company the extra talent and technology it needed.
In February, Accu-Tube bought nearby Mercury Tube Products, which makes thick-wall tubing for the industrial and aerospace markets. The combined companies now had the ability and expertise to develop welded-and-drawn tubing with wall thicknesses as high as .100 in. and an inner diameter as small as .049 in. (Welded-and-drawn tubing is made by folding a flat strip of stainless steel into a circular tube and welding the edges together. Drawing is the process of passing a large tube through a smaller die to resize it.)
Accu-Tube regularly uses a special stainless-steel alloy known as 17-7, which Oehlerking said is much stronger than the most popular stainless steel used in tubing, the 304 alloy. The stronger tubing would also have a sharper edge than what’s on the market, according to McGrath.
Experts from Accu-Tube and Mercury worked through several iterations and produced some catastrophic failures, according to Oehlerking. “We literally had some tubes that would come apart because the forces we were putting on the tubes were too high in the drawing process,” he said.
Achieving medical-grade cleanliness with a high-quality surface finish was another challenge they had to overcome. The company is continuing to refine the process of making its 10-to-12-ft tubing straight enough for machine shops to put in their CNC tools for drill and reamer manufacturing.
“We’ve completed the initial runs of manufacturing the tubing,” Oehlerking said. “We’ve provided samples to some of our contract manufacturing partners who are presenting finished components to their customers, the medical device OEMS. We have secured very strong interest on two or three programs to start off with.”
Accu-Tube’s next step is to do more testing and provide the tubing to partners for them to fabricate drills and test them. Once that’s finished, the company can begin manufacturing in earnest.
“It’s conceivable that we could have product that is production-ready and finished device-ready by Q1 of 2021,” Oehlerking said.