Constant readiness for innovation, high-quality in very individual products: the demands on medical technology are great. How firms reconcile these demands with rational production technology is shown in the Medical Area.
New technologies, miniaturisation, and a move away from pure product solutions to system and process solutions, integration of the most modern information and communication technologies, personalisation and individualisation: these are trends which determine everyday work in medical technology. Every innovation in medical technology calls for a suitable technology to produce it.
The close ties between medical and production technologies is the theme of the Medical Area at the Metav in Düsseldorf. Medical technology is increasingly becoming a vigorously growing customer segment making the greatest demands on quality, safety and reliability. This requires processing technologies which deliver precision and perfection in each phase of production, independently of whether the product is a one-off or a series product.
With regard to the demands, medical technology shares many common denominators with the aerospace industry: there is growing need for tools, for example, for machining very difficult and expensive materials. "In an aeroplane, a large portion of the machining work is drilling," affirms Lothar Horn, CEO of the Hartmetall-Werkzeugfabrik Paul Horn GmbH, Tübingen. He continues: "In comparison, medical technology firms do substantially more turning and milling." In terms of value, this Tübingen firm makes around 50 % of its turnover from the auto industry and 15 % from medical technology. Particularly because of the rising demand worldwide for implants and prostheses, this market has been growing by around 5 % per annum in the machining area since about 1995, says Horn, chairman of the VDMA specialist group Precision Tools.
A speciality of Horn’s firm is developing tailor-made tools to customers’ orders. Horn says, "For one customer, who attaches great importance to high productivity, we developed a special milling tool for artificial hip joints. Here we extended our three-cutting-edge system to form a six-cutting-edge tool which raised productivity by 30 %." Process improvements of this magnitude, however, apparently generally only succeed in close collaboration with the customer.
It is therefore very seldom that tools for medical technology are taken from the catalogue. "Almost always, we have to adapt the products to the application in order to maintain our position in the domestic market with ‘German engineering artistry’", Horn explains. "But those who succeed in doing this can maintain their position worldwide." He supports this claim with an experience of the Far Eastern kind: one Horn customer in the Black Forest, for example, succeeded in regaining a production order lost to China by raising his productivity: now he is producing almost 500 millions bone screws per annum at a lower price than the Chinese. The secret of success lies in a precise matching of machine, tool-holder and tool, leading to considerable higher quality and yield, we are told.
Very rigorous demands on machining tools are made by all the customers of the Fraisa GmbH in Willich, yet medical technology is a particular challenge for the firm. They produce, for example, tools for the manufacture of surgical instruments in stainless steel (high-alloy austenitic steels such as 1.4301), of implants in titanium or cobalt-chromium (CoCr) alloys, and also of instruments in carbon fibre composite materials (CFRP).
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