By Matthew Nipper, Director of Engineering – Laser Processing Technologies, Spectrum Plastics Group
Laser micromachining is one of the highest-precision processes utilized in medical device manufacturing. In fact, lasers may be the only option to produce delicate features, especially in thin or sensitive materials. Lasers can cut micron-sized features quickly with sub-micron tolerances, without defects—thereby reducing or eliminating secondary finishing processes, shortening cycle times, and expediting time to market. Because of these advantages, lasers are quickly becoming the preferred method to micromachine miniaturized and/or complex parts and products for medical devices, in virtually any shape or pattern.
Medical device companies work with Spectrum Plastics Group on innovative product designs that require microscopic features that are best produced using laser machining—for example, catheters, medical balloons, and devices for neurovascular, cardiovascular, and diagnostic procedures. Features produced in polymers can be as small as 10 microns in width, with tolerances as tight as 1-2 microns.
Polymers are typically the material of choice for medical devices. These materials are mechanically robust, chemically inert, and have excellent insulative properties. Polymers can be engineered to exhibit specific physical and chemical characteristics, to improve biocompatibility and performance, and can be extruded, injection molded, or additively manufactured. Virtually any thermoplastic or thermoset polymer material can be laser processed with high precision, including polycarbonate, polyurethanes, ABS, FEP, polyamides, polyimides, PEEK, PTFE, PMMA, polyester, Nylon, and acrylics.
Services and Capabilities
As products become smaller and more complex, our engineers must use their technical skills, material knowledge, and experience to build processes that can create these tiny, high-precision features that enhance product functionality, which can ultimately enhance or save patients’ lives. These capabilities include:
Lasers can be programmed to ablate or “vaporize” material from surfaces at the micron level. Ablation selectively removes layers of substrate or coating from the surface of manufactured parts, with little or no negative thermal or structural impacts to the surrounding material.
Laser cutting is often the only method that can produce the high-precision features these devices require. Our laser systems provide high-precision laser cutting with micron-level tolerances. We produce very small, complex features as small as 0.0002 inches (5 microns) with no heat effects, in a variety of materials.
This highly adaptable, versatile, and reliable micromanufacturing process is used in a broad range of industries. We customize our laser manufacturing and post-laser processing to match your unique drilling needs, optimizing applications such as micro holes, hole arrays, blind wells, and specialized portals. Micron-scale holes can be laser-drilled in a variety of patterns with the highest precision, without burrs or residual material that can plug holes.
Laser wire stripping provides excellent precision and process control and eliminates contact with the wire, allowing for the processing of delicate wire gauges. Our laser-stripping system is capable of stripping wire up to 38 gauge, providing the opportunity to produce designs not possible with traditional wire stripping methods. Our system can handle both reel-to-reel and reel-to-cut applications and can be programmed to ablate insulation at any point along the wire, enabling high-precision mid-span removals.
Ultrafast lasers are perfect for medical device manufacturing because of their versatility, precision, and lack of thermal or structural damage to the material being processed. With an average pulse width of 150 femtoseconds (150 quadrillionths of 1 second), there is virtually no heat transfer beyond the dimensions of the cut, making it a “cool” process, enabling the laser to process nearly any material. Features as small as 0.0005 inches (13 microns) can be laser-cut with high dimensional accuracy.
Spectrum Plastics Group’s Acquisition of Laser Light Technologies
Spectrum, a global supplier of medical device specialty components, sub-assemblies, and full-service solutions, acquired Laser Light Technologies in May 2021, extending our precision manufacturing capabilities.
The merging of Laser Light Technologies’ expert laser-processing services and technologies with Spectrum’s extensive manufacturing and materials capabilities, provides vertically integrated services that improve product design and testing, product quality, and speed to market. For example:
- Components and technology. Precision laser-processing can now be added to Spectrum’s extruded tubing, catheter and drug-delivery products, medical balloons, and flexible packaging and films. This value-added processing includes laser cut-to-length services, hole drilling, outside diameter reduction, and bioresorbable stent cutting.
- Catheter delivery systems. As medical catheters become smaller and more complex, they become more challenging to laser-machine. OEMs increasingly require laser technologies that can drill micron-sized features, such as flow orifices, fill ports, and selective access to internal lumens, in a range of materials with tight, single-micron tolerances.
- Medical balloons. Lasers play a critical role in creating detailed, high-precision medical balloon features with no thermal damage to the surrounding material. Our laser systems can produce flow-regulating micro-holes, grooves, and fill ports. Micron-scale laser texturing can improve the performance of the coating on the balloon by modulating the surface friction.
- Injection molding. For injection molded products, lasers can be used to create micron-sized features within molds, deflash molded ophthalmic implants, and improve osseointegration of injection-molded bioresorbable implants. Because ultra-fast lasers impart no heat damage, they are ideal for processing sensitive implantable and bioresorbable materials.
- Flexible films and packaging. Spectrum offers a wide variety of single-layer and coextruded films and packaging materials that interface with automation for thermoforming and flow-wrap applications. Lasers are used to drill holes in polyethylene laminate discs for life sciences and micropore arrays in flat sheets for cardiovascular embolic filters.
Committed to Quality
Unsurpassed quality is what manufacturers want the most—this is especially true for mission-critical or health-critical products. High quality means consistent repeatability and reliability, durability, functionality, fewer defects, and most importantly, improved patient safety.
Spectrum is an ISO 9001:2015- and 13485:2016-certified company. We continuously monitor and adjust our compliance and validation processes to maintain a highly effective quality management system, with tight tolerances in the sub-micron range.
Laser processing technologies will continue to push the edge of innovation as medical device companies produce smaller and more complex products. It is important to work closely with proven partners who are skilled problem-solvers and know the deep capabilities of laser systems as early in the design process as possible to ensure project success.
The acquisition of Laser Light Technologies allows Spectrum to serve as a single-source solution for our customers —a tremendous value-add that improves communication and quality, shortens the supply chain, and speeds time to market.
Visit Spectrum at MDM West 2021, August 10-12, Booth 2801.
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