Waterjet cutting technology enables innovation

Compact waterjet cutting tools significantly augment the medtech prototyping process.


Wazer
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF WAZER

Today’s medical device industry faces constantly evolving challenges. With increasing cost pressures making it challenging to maintain quality, medical device manufacturers look for new tools to streamline production while keeping costs down.

One answer to the challenges is a new wave of compact manufacturing technologies. Compact tools, like desktop waterjet cutters, enable manufacturers to accelerate prototyping and proof of concepts to drive innovation, deliver increasingly localized and customized treatments, work with specialized materials, and create tooling to keep high-volume production lines running.

Nisan Lerea, Co-Founder & CEO, WAZER

Enhance the prototyping process

Prototyping is a repetitive process consisting of designing, building, testing, and evaluating – crucial to the creation of any medical device. When prototyping orthopedic implants, product design engineers need to produce test samples and fully functional prototypes to ensure the implant’s competency. Design engineers often need to outsource specific custom pieces for a prototype due to a lack of access to industrial manufacturing tools and machines necessary to cut certain metals. The outsourcing process can take multiple weeks, negatively impacting the engineer’s building phase by creating lengthy bottlenecks. Compact waterjet cutting tools such as WAZER let engineers make fully functional implant prototypes in-house. They can perform tests and make the necessary alterations faster than outsourcing.

Waterjets allow an engineer to prototype and test using any material. This includes the same materials used in the final implant, so the engineer can make more accurate evaluations using the same materials in testing as in production. Orthopedic implants made of titanium or stainless steel can be cut on waterjets; the materials can’t be cut using plasma or laser cutters, which could risk weakening the material or cutting edges.

Medical device companies may need to produce parts on short notice to participate in a clinical trial. Traditional manufacturing methods, such as sheet metal stamping, are costly, and their long lead time also makes them inefficient. Compact CNC waterjets provide medical product design engineers affordable low-volume prototyping, and they can be placed almost anywhere in an engineering shop. A WAZER waterjet enables engineers to adjust and iterate, following tests on prototypes, significantly reducing costs and downtime.

Diagram of an orthopedic implant cutout.

Additive + subtractive prototyping

Modern prototype shops need compact subtractive and additive manufacturing machinery to have the most extensive range of in-house prototyping capabilities. Compact 3D printers (3DPs) produce parts in resin materials while small-format waterjets like WAZER cut prototype parts out of metals and specialized material. With the ability to make fast, successive iterations, medical device design engineers can make changes to de-risk the designs early in the process when the cost of change is lower.

Unique tools for customized treatments

3DPs and waterjets enable greater healthcare innovation while delivering increasingly localized and customized treatments. Hospitals, clinics, and rehab facilities are using compact machines, with 99% of U.S. hospitals currently housing a 3DP. With the incorporation of compact machinery into hospitals and labs, technicians can easily operate software to produce:

  • Anatomical models for preoperative planning
  • Surgical guides customized from body scans
  • Parts designed to match body scans
  • Dental prostheses directly from intraoral scans
  • Personalized surgical instruments customized to the surgeon’s specifications

As the procedures and techniques used in healthcare develop and evolve, so must the devices that deliver these treatments. Compact 3DPs and waterjets enable hospitals and labs to create one-off pieces in a fraction of the time traditional methods take while not requiring a team to operate them.

An orthopedic implant being cut on waterjet.

Compact machines for specialized materials

The many specialized materials used in today’s medical devices challenge manufacturers to find the right tools to work with them. For biocompatible, sterilization-resistant, and X-ray opaque plastics such as PEEK, PPSU, PSU, and POM, the machinery necessary to work with the materials often has been unattainable.

Now, compact manufacturing machinery can work with them. Small-format waterjets are excellent for cutting sheets of specialized plastics and metals with high strength-to-weight ratios such as titanium. Orthotic devices and prosthetics require titanium, while gas pathway connectors and adapters require specialized plastics. These materials aren’t compatible with compact 3DPs because of process restrictions.

Keep production running

A high-volume manufacturing machine requires precision tools and jigs to guide and control mass production. Whenever parts or machines change, the tooling needs to be updated. Outsourcing the tooling can take weeks or months, adding time, expense, and the risk of error. Without the proper tooling, production is forced to stop. The cost of a week’s downtime for high-volume manufacturers is significant. Compact waterjet machines in manufacturing operations can create tooling and jigs in-house, reducing manufacturing expenses and downtime while accelerating time-to-market. Suppose a medical device manufacturer has 60 industrial machines with tooling to be replaced. A compact CNC waterjet can produce the new tooling in-house sooner than it would have taken to outsource.

The WAZER is a compact, industrial caliber CNC waterjet.

The growing pressure of innovation and competition paired with high-volume production requests drives medical device manufacturers to innovate and prototype quickly. Compact manufacturing tools allow companies to accelerate and de-risk the design phase and build medical devices in-house. The tools are a vital enabler of medical device development and production as they have a smaller footprint, are affordable, and technicians can quickly learn and operate them in-house. Low-cost waterjet cutters, along with many evolving 3DP options, are increasingly helping medical device manufacturers deliver on these challenges.

About the author: Nisan Lerea is co-founder and CEO of WAZER and an inventor of the world’s first desktop waterjet cutter.

WAZER
https://wazer.com

December 2022
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