When a Medical Part Requires a New Process

When a Medical Part Requires a New Process

Oct 3, 2017

By Mark Langlois, Design-2-Part magazine Two suppliers to the medical device industry—a custom extruder and a micro-injection molder—have developed innovative techniques to tackle tough parts manufacturing challenges. Medical OEMs’ demands on high quality custom manufacturing firms are so great that they have inspired some industry-leading suppliers to develop new manufacturing processes or technologies to meet these exacting customer needs. At Putnam Plastics, engineers led the 33-year-old medical extrusions firm, based in Putnam, Connecticut, into new manufacturing techniques and materials to meet the demands of OEMs that asked for smaller parts and higher quality. For medical parts used inside a patient’s body, failure isn’t an option. Putnam Plastics manufactures tri-layer extrusions via its trademark Total Intermittent Extrusion (TIE™) process that eliminated problems found in other manufacturing processes. This manufacturing technique creates composite catheter shafts that provide a soft tip and a shaft that combines flexibility and stiffness, allowing for easier insertion and manipulation.   Makuta Technics Inc., a micro injection molding firm with 21 years in the business near Indianapolis, Indiana, developed a robotic and automated manufacturing process to create a medical DNA holder that measured in microns and couldn’t be touched by human hands. Three competitors failed to make the part before they even attempted to reach the “untouched by human hands” standard. Both Putnam Plastics and Makuta focus on improving their manufacturing processes to prepare for future products. But what are some of the major technical and engineering challenges these firms faced? Why couldn’t any mom and pop outfit do what they do? Stuart Kaplan, who founded Makuta Technics Inc. in 1996, told D2P in a phone interview that it comes down to tolerances. “The DNA-free requirement was impossible until we created the automation required,” said Kaplan. “The secondary cutting operation has to be hands-free. Three suppliers before us never made it to the DNA part. They couldn’t make the geometry. We had the expertise in mold design, automation, and processing. They (the OEM) let us know what their problems were in every area. We went all the way from development through production.” Makuta developed the robotic and automated manufacturing process that consistently met the 150 micron wall thickness, give or take 10 microns, untouched by human hands, in quantities...

Autonomous Mobile Robots Support A Lean Approach…

Autonomous Mobile Robots Support A Lean Approach…

Sep 28, 2017

“Autonomous Mobile Robots Support A Lean Approach To Operations” By Ed Mullen, VP of Sales-Americas at Mobile Industrial Robots, Manufacturing Business Technology  As manufacturers embrace a lean approach to operations, executives are evaluating their opportunities to continually optimize productivity. Even in highly automated facilities, material handling is often still a manual, inefficient process, but automating material transportation to reduce production bottlenecks and deploy valuable human workers more effectively has been a challenge. Decision-makers have been faced with expensive investments in automated guided vehicles (AGVs), which don’t provide the flexibility needed in today’s agile manufacturing processes. But new sensor and software technologies make autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) ideal for unpredictable or changing production layouts and dynamic work environments. Agile manufacturing is allowing companies to adapt to fast-changing market demands and maintain their competitiveness, but on-time delivery of materials and assemblies within those facilities continues to be a challenge. Manual transportation requires workers to leave their stations to push carts loaded with materials between manufacturing processes and the stockroom, and can result in production backlogs and idle workers as they wait for assemblies and parts to be delivered. Automating this deliver has been a challenge, however. Plant set-up is often dynamic, with new production cells and processes that must be supported and people, equipment, pallets, and other obstacles can appear in what used to be open passageways. Any automated material transportation approach must be flexible and easily adaptable without additional cost or disruption to processes, not to mention safe for operation around employees. That flexibility also means that automated material handling must be easy to learn, program, deploy, and redeploy in-house to ensure that the chosen approach can cost-effectively keep up-to-date with requirements. Traditional automated guided vehicles (AGVs) move materials using fixed routes that are guided by permanent wires, magnetic strips, or sensors embedded in the plant floor. However, those systems are inflexible, expensive, and disruptive for dynamic manufacturing floors. If manufacturing processes change, the facility must be updated again — and if people or material temporarily blocks the AGV’s route, it simply stops until the way is cleared. In contrast, today’s autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are designed for dynamic environments. They offer the flexibility, safety, and...

Strut-Truss Design, 3D Printing Reduce Mass of Satellite…

Strut-Truss Design, 3D Printing Reduce Mass of Satellite…

Sep 26, 2017

“Strut-Truss Design, 3D Printing Reduce Mass of Satellite Structural Components” Featured in Design-2-Part Magazine PALO ALTO, Calif.—Space Systems Loral (SSL), a provider of satellites and spacecraft systems, recently announced that it has successfully introduced next-generation design and manufacturing techniques for structural components into its SSL 1300 geostationary satellite platform. Its first antenna tower that was designed using these techniques, which include additive manufacturing (3D printing), was launched last December on the JCSAT-15 satellite, the company said in a press release. “SSL is an innovative company that continues to evolve its highly reliable satellite platform with advanced technologies,” said Dr. Matteo Genna, chief technology officer and vice president of product strategy and development at SSL, in a company release. “Our advanced antenna tower structures enable us to build high performance satellites that would not be possible without tools such as 3D printing.” The highly optimized strut-truss antenna tower used on JCSAT-110A consisted of 37 printed titanium nodes and more than 80 graphite struts. The strut-truss design methodology is now standard for SSL spacecraft, with 13 additional structures in various stages of design and manufacturing, and has resulted in SSL’s using hundreds of 3D printed titanium structural components per year, according to the company. “We would like to thank our customer, SKY Perfect JSAT, for partnering with us on this important satellite manufacturing advance,” said Paul Estey, executive vice president, engineering and operations at SSL, in the release. “This breakthrough in satellite design is an example of SSL’s holistic approach to new technologies and its teamwork with satellite operators that need to maximize their satellites’ capability.” For SSL (www.sslmda.com), optimizing at the system level with additive manufacturing is reported to have enabled an average of 50 percent reductions in mass and schedule for large and complex structures. The savings over conventionally manufactured structural assemblies are much greater than what is possible with the optimization of an individual part. Since the launch of JCSAT-110A, SSL has completed assembly and testing on several other strut-truss structures and continues to expand its use of additive manufacturing and other next-generation design and manufacturing techniques, the company...

Robots With More Common Senses

Robots With More Common Senses

Sep 25, 2017

By ThomasNet The ability for a mechanical device to understand tactile sensations and process reactions accordingly has long been a goal of medical researchers. Recently, a team from the University of Houston was able to realize this goal with the use of a stretchable material that can be used with robotic hands to sense the difference between hot and cold water, as well as other sensations. The new material is being referred to as an artificial skin with stretchable electronics. In addition to more lifelike prosthetics, the team led by mechanical engineering professor Cunjiang Yu feels their new advancement could serve a number of biomedical applications. And outside of the medical field, this new stretchable electronic skin could be used for creating wearable electronics and human-machine interfaces (HMIs). The key was creating a rubber composite semiconductor that would allow the electronic components to continue working even as the material was stretched over the robotic appendage. Traditionally, semiconductors are brittle, making their use in flexible environments challenging without complex mechanical support. In addition to gauging temperature, the rubber semiconductor allowed the new “skin” to understand computer signals sent to the hand, and translate them via American Sign Language. The skin is comprised of a silicon-based polymer called polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). The composition of PDMS was crucial for accurately placing and holding numerous nanowires. These nanowires transport the electric current used to generate the robotic hand’s ability to feel and...

A way to make 3D printed parts stronger

A way to make 3D printed parts stronger

Sep 21, 2017

By Bill Bregar, Plastics News Brandon Sweeney, a doctoral student at Texas A&M University’s Department of Chemical Engineering, has developed a way to make 3D printed parts 275 times stronger. Sweeney, working with his adviser Micah Green, associate professor of chemical engineering, applied traditional welding concepts and a carbon nanotube composite filament to bond the submillimeter layers in a 3D printing part using focused microwaves. Sweeney began working with materials for 3D printing while he was employed at the Army Research Laboratory at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. “I was able to see the amazing potential of the technology, such as the way it sped up our manufacturing times and enabled our CAD designs to come to life in a matter of hours,” Sweeney said. “Unfortunately, we always knew those were not really strong enough to survive in a real-world application.” When he started his doctorate studies, Sweeney was working with Green in the chemical engineering department. Green had been collaborating with Mohammad Saed, assistant professor in the electrical and computer engineering department at Texas Tech, on a project to detect carbon nanotubes using microwaves. The three men came up with an idea to use carbon nanotubes in 3D printed parts, then using microwave energy to weld the layers of parts together. “The basic idea is that a 3D part cannot simply be stuck in an oven to weld it together, because it is plastic and will melt,” Sweeney said. “We realized that we needed to borrow from the concepts that are traditionally used for welding parts together where you’d use a point source of heat, like a torch or TIP welder, to join the interface of the parts together. You’re not melting the entire part, just putting the heat where you need it.” The team puts a 3D printed filament and apply a thin layer of a carbon nanotube composite on the outside. “When you print the parts out, that thin layer gets embedded at the interface of all the plastic strands,” Sweeney said. “Then we stick it in a microwave, we use a big more sophisticated microwave oven in this research, and monitor the temperature with an infrared camera.” The patent-pending...

Overcoming the Fears of Digital Transformation

Overcoming the Fears of Digital Transformation

Sep 20, 2017

By Anthony Bourne, Industrial Equipment News Manufacturers need to think carefully about how they position IoT and other disruptive technologies, and how they communicate the benefits. Digital Transformation (DT) is coming of age. In the recent Digital Change Survey commissioned by IFS, 80 percent saw themselves as “enabled, enhanced or optimized” to leverage DT. Even more impressively, 89 percent said they had “advantageous” or “adequate” funding in place for digital projects—a clear acknowledgment that the time of disruptive technologies is here. But why are businesses investing? Where do they see the big profits? And how successfully are they selling digital change throughout their organizations? Beyond Efficiency The survey found that over a quarter (27 percent) of companies say digital transformation makes them more competitive. Additionally, 29 percent see the main benefit as accelerating innovation and 28 percent feel that growth opportunities in new markets are the primary advantage. Companies using digital transformation to ask far-reaching strategic questions—like “can I use it to get myself a bigger share on the market, or increase my product portfolio?”—are making the most of the long-term, strategic opportunities. They’re sensing how it can transform even seemingly small tactical decisions into key strategic differentiators. But these companies are in the minority. The largest group in the survey, 47 percent, still see the main benefits of DT as “improving internal process efficiencies”, which makes me wonder: do companies really see the full potential? Innovation can make or break a company, and study after study foregrounds it as a C-level priority. So why doesn’t it appear to be a driver for digital transformation? Considering technology investments, this could mean that the majority of funds are invested in making internal processes more effective and thereby failing to enable innovation. Improved internal efficiency as the key reason to explore DT is, in my view, too short sighted. It fails to exploit the strategic benefits and makes it more difficult to win the understanding and commitment of the staff. Overcoming Fear of Change Despite plenty of good news, the survey still reveals that 42 percent of respondents view aversion to change as the main barrier to digital transformation. Companies need to think carefully about how they position...