Medtech manufacturing has become more challenging as more functions and features are added to medical devices. There is a growing need for smaller devices with precise, high-quality, small features made with techniques beyond those found in traditional manufacturing. Laser processing has been filling this need. Today, lasers routinely mark, cut, and drill various materials for the production of medical devices.
As with most things related to human health, there are stringent requirements for materials and the methods used to process them. Materials for which laser tools are selected tend to be of high strength, purity, and chemical resistance, often making them difficult to fabricate and process by other means. They also run a gamut of materials, such as:
• Corrosion-resistant and high-strength metals, such as stainless steel and titanium;
• High-strength ceramics such as zirconia and alumina;
• A recent class of medical-grade polymers composed of various TPUs (thermoplastic polyurethanes), polycarbonates and fluoropolymers such as PTFE (Teflon).
Such materials must be extremely pure. In addition, their manufacturing processes, such as drilling and cutting, must be as clean as possible, leaving behind minimal debris and residue to cut down on costly and time-consuming postprocessing.
Laser tools in medtech manufacturing are dominated by high-average-power CO2 and high-pulse-energy excimer designs. But as medical devices continue to shrink and become increasingly specialized, leading to lower production volumes, these lasers are proving unsuitable in some cases.