January 19, 2021

Metal Fabrication and Medical Device Innovation

From implantable devices to diagnostic screening equipment, metal fabrication plays a vital role in medical device innovation. Even the most basic medical tools, such as scalpels and forceps, are made from metal. 

We learn more about the human body and disease every day. With these medical breakthroughs come cutting-edge technology that wouldn’t be possible with custom metal fabrication—because when you’re building something the world has never seen before, you often need parts that don’t exist yet.

Let’s take a look at a few recent medical device innovations made possible by metal fabrication. 

Medical Supply Drones and Robots

Automation and robotics are making significant changes not only in the speed of medical treatment but also the quality. Medical supply drones are a relatively new addition, with the first batch undergoing testing just this March. 

Pioneered by UPS—yes, like the mail delivery company—Flight Forward drones can be used to carry medical supplies and samples between hospitals much faster than a human courier, and in the medical community, every second counts. 

However, medical drones are far from the first robotic helpers to hit the health industry. Before drones came hospital robots, programmed to navigate buildings using Wi-Fi to interact with automatic doors and elevators. These automated helpers deliver supplies and even disinfect rooms.

In the age of COVID-19, these bots have taken a leap forward, with many now featuring two-way communication screens and advanced medical equipment, making it possible for healthcare professionals to diagnose and monitor patients without ever entering the room.

Both medical drones and robots require a range of custom metal components to function—they are robots, after all. That may include springs, casings, levers, brackets, gears, arms, and more. 

All of these components are made via metal fabrication, or the process of cutting, shaping, and molding of metal and metal alloys. Producing custom metal for medical devices requires specialized fabrication equipment, such as a CNC, laser-cutting, or water-jetting machine.

  • Stamping: When a die hits a metal sheet at a high pressure to create a specific shape
  • Hot extrusion: The process of forcing metal through a die to create a cross-sectional profile
  • Welding: Joining two pieces of metal together using fusion
  • Folding or bending: Forcing metal to alter its shape
  • Laser cutting: Using lasers for precision cutting of thin metals
  • Water jetting: Using a thin jet of water to cut thin or thick metals
  • Metal spinning: Shaping metal through spinning
  • Finishing: The final step of metal fabrication that involves sandblasting, painting, powder-coating, or anodization
  • Riveting: A metal pin is passed through holes in two or more plates or pieces to hold them together
  • Fastening: When two pieces of metal are joined together using hardware like screws or bolts.

Surgical Robots and Exoskeletons

Speaking of robots, metal fabrication’s contribution to medical innovation doesn’t stop with simple couriering or distance diagnoses. Many advances in robotics are playing crucial roles in actual medical treatments. 

For example, the newest addition to the realm of robotic surgeons, the da Vinci System, can perform an array of surgical procedures more precisely and with smaller incisions than the actual surgeons controlling the machine.

Exoskeletons, on the other hand, may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but utilizing delicate sensors, they help patients recover from a long list of conditions, such as lower limb and spinal cord injuries and strokes. In cases, they can even help patients with lost mobility walk upright. 

Again, as robotic devices, these innovations are made possible by expertly designed custom metal components coupled with a whole lot of mechanical genius. At least in the way of exoskeletons, one major challenge for metal fabricators was creating a design that was lightweight but also strong enough to support an adult human’s weight. 

Many feature high-quality steel frames and ultra-precise aluminum actuators along with advanced hydraulics—that doesn’t even consider any of the bits and pieces to hold it together.   

Wearable Tech

Chances are you’ve heard of the Apple Watch or numerous models released by well-known fitness tracker maker Fitbit. While these wearable devices contribute in their own way to the medical field, particularly in their ability to monitor heart rate, they make up just a smaller corner of the possibilities wearable tech has opened to the medical community.

Wireless monitoring devices can now keep track of blood sugar for people with diabetes, allow pacemakers to be controlled via Bluetooth, diagnose heart defects, and so much more. Unquestionably, advances in wireless technology have played a large role there, but many of those advances would be impossible without metal fabrication. 

The antennas used in these devices had to be entirely redesigned to offer the flexibility and durability regular movement requires. Wearable tech antennas are made using laser-cutting and CNC machine processes to cut Titanium or sheet metal at a thickness of around .003”. To put that in perspective, the sheet of average paper is .0039” thick—talk about precision!

Metal: The Backbone of the Medical Device Industry

While all the above are examples of recent medical innovations made possible by metal fabrication, the two industries have been intertwined for centuries. What roles does metal play in the medical field?

The most common metals and alloys used in medical equipment, devices, and implants include:

  • Stainless steel
  • Aluminum
  • Titanium
  • Cobalt-chrome alloy
  • Nitinol
  • Gold
  • Platinum
  • Silver
  • Iridium
  • Tantalum
  • Tungsten
  • Copper
  • Brass

Titanium is one of the most commonly used medical metals as the human body is less likely to reject it. Common uses for Titanium in the medical industry include bone implants, orthopedic rods, pins and plates, retractors, drills, forceps, scissors, needles, surgical instruments, and much more.

The metal fabrication process stays closely regulated to keep up with the science related to metals and their medical equipment uses. 

Metal fabrication must meet rigorous standards to prevent corrosion and adverse biological and immunological responses in patients. The FDA recognizes the international standard ISO 9001 as a quality management system for metal fabrication.

High-Quality Metal Medical Components Delivered to Your Doorstep 

At The Federal Group USA, we have the expertise, supplies, equipment, and manufacturing processes necessary to meet the exacting demands of any medical-device project. We guarantee quality and cost controls while providing fast delivery that allows you to get your product to market quickly. 

Count on The Federal Group USA as a vital link in your supply chain.  Contact us for a quote on your custom metal fabrication project at 1-800-759-2658. 

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