Micromachining: Exploring the Growth of Medical Innovation

December 28, 2023

Kennametal KenDrill Micro 2xD Solid Carbide Drill with Coolant about to cut a workpiece

Advances in medicine have always been a driver for innovation in the pursuit of a better future. As breakthroughs occur, new devices and technologies are in high demand - especially for designing tooling systems for micromachining applications. 

Manufacturers must meet the demanding challenges of the medical industry and provide drilling, milling, threading, and turning solutions that operate at the highest level of precision. Here, we’ll explore micromachining, some of the tools and applications used in healthcare, and why manufacturing plays a vital role in this area.

What is Micromachining?

Micromachining involves the engineering of extremely small, intricate, and precise components where tight tolerances are required. It uses advanced machinery and techniques to cut, drill, mill, or thread workpieces on a micrometer and sub-micrometer level. 

Micromachining:

  • Maximizes precision for the engineering of intricate components.

  • Reduces waste of materials, saves on cost, and supports the environment.

  • Offers flexibility by working with a wide range of materials including metals, ceramics, and polymers.

Manufacturing Medical Components

Micromachining is widely used across industries such as aerospace, automotive, and oil and gas. Additionally, the medical industry is constantly pushing manufacturers to develop new tooling platforms. With the demand for medical components on the rise, new and improved tools play a pivotal role in the improvement of patient care and treatment outcomes. 

There are several medical machining strategies manufacturers can employ to make these precision instruments. Some micro strategies and applications include:

  • Drilling: Commonly used in micromachining, drilling is primarily used for applications such as surgeries with small incisions, biopsies, medical implants, and microfluidics. The drills can create tiny holes in catheters or in bone screws or plates. They can also be used to create micro-sized channels in devices for fluid control and drug administration.

  • Milling: Used to create intricate components, milling can be used for dental implants, crowns, and neurological devices. Along with drilling, milling techniques can be used to create tiny channels for fluid control and drug administration.

  • Threading: This technique is essential for manufacturing threading components in surgical instruments, orthopedic screws, and connectors for attaching leads or catheters.

  • Turning: The process of turning can create precise contours and shapes in miniature implants, optical components such as lenses, or endoscopic instruments where components are required for visualization and flexibility.

Biocompatible Materials

Developing specialized micro-components demands expert knowledge of the proper metals and plastics that are biocompatible and for safe use. That’s why precision is so important to understand the types of materials used and how they affect the human body on a micro-scale. Additionally, the parts must be evaluated and meet regulatory and safety standards for the medical application intended.

Medical Grade Materials Include:

While there are several medical-grade workpiece materials that can be used to engineer components, here are some of the most common types used.

  • Stainless Steel: This corrosion- and heat-resistant and durable material is suitable for various medical devices including surgical instruments and orthopedic implants. It is biocompatible and can withstand sterilization processes.

  • Titanium: Well-known for excellent biocompatibility, titanium is a corrosion-resistant, low-weight, and high-strength material. It can be used in orthopedic implants, dental implants, and more. Titanium is not magnetic.

  • Cobalt-Chromium Alloys (Co-Cr-Mo): Highly biocompatible, cobalt and chromium alloys have a minimal risk of causing allergic reactions or adverse tissue responses. They offer high strength and are corrosion resistant. They can be used for medical implants including hip and joint replacements, cardiovascular stents, and dental prosthetics.

  • PEEK (polyetheretherketone): Along with POM (Polyoxymethylene), PEI (Polyetherimide), and other medical grade plastics, PEEK offers lightweight, high strength, and durability. They are suitable for various applications, especially ones where weight and cost need to be minimized.

  • Silicone and TPE: Used in various medical applications, silicones and TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) is ideal for developing tubing, seals, and prosthetics. This is due to its biocompatibility, flexibility, and resistance to both high and low temperatures. 

  • Ceramics: Known for their biocompatibility, hardness, and resistance to wear, ceramics can be used for implants such as hip and knee joint replacements and several surgical instruments.

Kennametal Micro Machining Solutions

When it comes to machining the smallest of diameters for the most intricate parts, Kennametal engineers tooling systems that meet the highest requirements for health and safety. Some of our most innovative products include:

  • KCS10B Indexable Inserts: Designed with a Hi-PIMS (High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering) PVD coating, KSC10B reduces friction and delivers excellent surface finishes, long tool life, and high process stability. 

  • KenDrill™ Micro: The first Kennametal microdrill for short and deep-hole applications. The design is capable of machining multiple materials.

  • KCU10B Indexable Inserts: From steels, stainless steels, and cast iron to high-temp alloys and non-ferrous materials, KCU10B features a PVD multilayer coating that cuts consistently. 

  • HARVI™ I TE End Mills: Features an 8-flute design and is capable of challenging cuts on high-temp alloys, stainless steels, steels, titanium, and hardened materials.

Summary

Micromachining has led to a shift in the manufacturing of medical components. It challenges how we design the tooling systems, measure accuracy and precision, and think about size as well as the materials used across several industries. It motivates innovation and explores new ways to provide a better future for healthcare delivery.

Did you know?

Microdrilling enables the construction of intricate microfluidic channels and chambers on a chip to help manipulate fluids at the micro-scale for controlled chemical analysis, drug testing, and medical diagnostics. 

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