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What the Doctor Ordered

Published: 21 April 2021 - Svetlana Josifovska

An ageing global population is driving extraordinary growth in the market for medical equipment, which is placing huge demands on suppliers to the sector, in terms of both product quality and lead times. Here, Irish Manufacturing explores some of the main machining challenges facing local manufacturers, and speaks to both Yamazaki Mazak and its distributor for the Irish market, HW Machine Tools Co. Ltd, about how the company has developed a suite of machines ready-made to thrive in one of industry’s most nuanced sectors.

"The needs of medical device manufacturers can vary widely, with a combination of capabilities being required from Multi-Tasking to 5-axis work,” begins Alan Mucklow, Managing Director UK & Ireland Sales & Service Division at Yamazaki Mazak.

“However, on the whole, we have found that companies in this field are looking for a combination of factors from their machining centres. These include an extremely high degree of accuracy and repeatability, a rigid machine platform to achieve a high-quality surface finish, sufficient spindle power for difficult-to-cut materials, and a design that can be easily integrated with automation technology.”

Medical device manufacturers often work with extremely hard-to-cut metals such as titanium, chrome alloys and stainless steel. This has, in turn, led to the development of machining centres with a very rigid platform and stable trunnion table to meet this need.

Alongside rigidity, extreme accuracy and precision are both prerequisites when working with such metals, which can be processed for components as diverse as the elements of orthopaedic devices, to dental implants and surgical tools. Given the applications these machined parts are used for, a high-spec finish is expected as standard.

Mr Mucklow continues: “When considering the purpose of the components that make up a hip joint, for instance, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Instead, a high degree of customisation is required depending on the individual’s height and posture.

“As a result, innovation has been driven toward creating adaptable machining centres that can provide extremely accurate single jobs, while also being capable of providing large quantities of high-volume repeat parts with unerring precision. There has been a focus on developing the use of technologies, such as Mazak’s own Smooth Control CNC solution, that allow the more intuitive operations and easy editing of machine programs required to achieve this goal.”

For the Irish medical market in particular, adaptability has long been a major buying consideration for medical subcontractors. Godfrey McCurry, Technical Manager at HW Machine Tools, continues: “There has always been a strong drive towards Multi-Tasking machines among Irish manufacturers working across the medical industry, particular for models from Mazak’s INTEGREX and VARIAXIS series.

“The market itself is quite diverse, and we work with customers whose operations vary significantly. At one end, you have customers who undertake the high-volume manufacture of single pieces, for whom machine uptime is critical. At the other end, there are customers who specialise in innovation and R&D, and so work in lower volumes with a higher mix. Here, fast fixturing and low set-up times are key.”

One of the defining challenges for medical device manufacturers is the competitive nature of the sector. Machine tool manufacturers have attempted to tackle this issue in a number of ways but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly hastened the adoption of one piece of the productivity puzzle: automation.

Mr Mucklow continues: “Being able to implement the automation solutions required for round-the-clock shift working can provide business with a vital competitive edge in an increasingly crowded market. It’s a key driver across all sectors Mazak works in, including medical.”

Paul Roche, Sales Manager at HW Machine Tools, concurs: “We’ve certainly witnessed an increase in interest for automation among our medical customers. A number have purchased compatible machines with an eye on future investment in automation, while others are already opting for a turnkey package. It’s rare for any of our medical customers to warrant an ‘off the shelf’ solution, so the breadth of compatibility with automation systems is a big strength of Mazak’s.”

Ease-of-integration with automation systems has played a significant role in the R&D process for Mazak’s most recent product launches, the CV5-500 high-accuracy simultaneous 5-axis machining centre.

Mr Mucklow continues: “Central to the CV5-500’s appeal is that it provides companies, such as those manufacturing for the medical sector, with the ability to easily incorporate 5-axis machining into their operations, at a competitive price point, without having to compromise on rigidity, accuracy or quality. Consequently, these organisations can carry out high-spec machining at a comparatively lower cost than previous associated with 5-axis solutions.”

A key strength of the CV5-500 is its high-rigidity bridge construction with a fully supported trunnion table, which allows for the extremely accurate machining that makes it unique in its category. It is equipped with a 12,000 rpm spindle, with an option for 18,000 rpm, capable of a peak performance of 18.5 kW and 119.4 Nm, making it suitable for the range of demanding materials required in medical application machining.

This, coupled with the Intelligent Thermal Shield system that maintains stable cutting accuracy by applying automatic compensation to combat temperature fluctuations, along with linear roller guides that provide a dampening effect and ball screw core coolant that helps maintain high accuracy, combine to deliver extremely precise 5-axis machining over multiple cutting mediums. Interference is further reduced due to the spindle cartridge’s narrow design, which allows the spindle nose to reach the middle of the table, minimising the potential for disruptive vibration.

Finally, the CV5-500 is designed to enable easy integration of automation systems, thanks to the addition of its B-axis table and side-loading door, which also conveniently allows tools to be replaced in automatic cycles.

“The CV5-500 can be used with a broad range of automation systems, which means medical device manufacturers can quickly realise the around-the-clock unmanned 5-axis machining required to remain competitive,” adds Mr Mucklow.

“Moreover, operators can then be deployed elsewhere in the machine shop for further operational efficiency. However, as the front of the machine remains uninhibited from automation equipment, operators retain access for setups with full visibility of the machining operation.”

He concludes: “The medical market is certainly one the most unique subsectors of industry given the sheer the sheer breadth of applications it can cover. With the world starting to return to a degree of normality, it looks like the sector will bounce back strongly due to the high-volume of procedures and operations that were placed on hold over the past 12 months. Given the clear advantages in terms of accuracy, stability and repeatability it can deliver, I expect the impact of 5-axis machining will only grow further.”

To find out more about Yamazaki Mazak’s range of 5-axis machining solutions for the medical market, please visit: https://www.mazakeu.co.uk/medical.

To enquire about H.W Machine’s portfolio of Yamazaki Mazak machine tools, please visit: http://www.hwmachine.ie

 



 
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