Currently enjoying annual growth at over 9%, the UK's medical device manufacturing sector is worth more than £11 billion.
With over 6,500 visitors expected, MEDTEC (www.medtecuk.co.uk) has replicated this success to become the nation's leading exhibition and conference for the medical device manufacturing industry. This year, the event is co-located with several partner shows, including Midlands Design & Manufacturing and Mtec Sensors, Measurement and Instrumentation.
So what's on show? Well, all manufacturing trends for the medical device sector are represented here, including rapid prototyping, which is among the fastest growing areas, as medical firms look to avoid the lead-times and costs associated with traditional tooling methods.
A specialist in this area is Proto Labs (01952 607447), which will use the show to introduce Protomold Torus, a new colourful education tool available to designers and engineers. Made up of three, separate sections that fit together to form a doughnut, each one has several features to illustrate some of the more complex geometries achievable with injection moulding.
The Objet Connex 350, on the stand of OPS (01283 585955), presents a good opportunity to get familiar with rapid 3D printing for engineering applications. Featuring multi-material capability, the Connex 350 is a 3D printer that can print several materials simultaneously; print bi-material objects; or create digital materials to individual specifications.
Part complexity is a common problem in the medical sector and it's here that powder metallurgy can play a big role. The European Powder Metallurgy Association (01743 248899) will be at MEDTEC to promote the virtues of the process, not only as a low energy and low waste production method, but also as a process highly suitable for intricate components.
Of course, complex parts are the staple diet of the latest multi-axis CNC mill-turn machine tools, a range of which will be showcased by Yamazaki Mazak (01905 755755). The Integrex series is specifically aimed at subcontractors and the company already has a number of customers using these machines to fulfil medical sector contracts.
Many exhibitors at the event are offering products that support machine tools and other types of machinery, largely because of the specialist nature of the medical sector. HepcoMotion (01884 257000), for example, will present its latest PRT2 precision ring track, which comprises ring slides, ring segments, bearings and ancillary components to suit the majority of rotary and track system applications.
Similarly, energy chain and polymer bearing specialist Igus (01604 677240) will present a number of its ranges at the show, including PRT slewing rings, which include two developments, a toothed outer ring option, as well as a new low cost slewing ring. Also new will be the Igus DryLin WJRM, a new breed of hybrid linear bearing that suits applications that combine sliding and rolling movements, such as manually adjustable doors, guards, partitions and locks.
Image: One of two new developments from Igus, a toothed outer ring option for its PRT slew rings
Returning to complex component manufacture, this trend is also driving demand for more capable machine vision technology. With this in mind, Stemmer Imaging (01252 780000) will be showing the latest multi- and single-point inspection systems from Dalsa, such as the HD version of the BOA intelligent camera for harsh factory floor environments. Similarly, Alrad (01635 30345) will display the latest linescan cameras from e2v, such as the AViiVA EM4, which offers resolutions of up to 4096 pixels.
If it's making, rather than seeing, parts that's causing problems, then Ceramaret (+41 32 843 8383) might be able to help. This innovative Swiss company offers various ways to mould near-net-shape ceramic parts for applications that include bespoke blades and insulators for endoscopes and electro-surgery devices.
On the stand of Ireland-based Protek Medical (+353 7191 71808), visitors will find an established source for the design and manufacture of custom plastic and metal injection moulded components, while, if specific needle hub components are the order of the day, Qosina (+1 631 242 3000) makes up a three-part combination: hub connector, bushing and cap to create a customised fluid delivery or withdrawal system.
Inspection is a key area of successful medical device production, but, in terms of microscopes, physical optical limitations have restricted the progression of this technology in recent years. However, Keyence (01908 696900) has made a breakthrough. The VHX-1000 digital microscope system has been developed to overcome many of the shortcomings of conventional optical microscopes. A built-in 17" monitor eliminates the need for eyepieces, while advanced zoom lenses stretch the depth of field as much as 20x that of conventional microscopes. It is suitable for medical applications such as the inspection of stents, needles, catheter balloons and heart valves.
Another recent breakthrough in inspection technology can be seen on the stand of Carl Zeiss (01788 821770), where the Metrotom CT takes centre stage. CT (computed tomography) is an imaging method employing digital geometry processing to generate a 3D image of the inside of an object from a large series of 2D X-ray images taken around a single axis of rotation.
Image: Computer tomography - allows inspection of hidden details, without destroying the part
NEW PRODUCTS SHOWCASED
Metrology expert Renishaw (01453 524524) will use the event to showcase new encoder products, including the Resolute absolute optical encoder that is capable of 1 nm resolution at speeds up to 100 m/s. The event will also see the debut for RoLin, a component-level encoder consisting of an RLM read-head and MS magnetic scale or MR ring.
Image: RoLin, a component-level encoder consisting of an RLM read-head and MS magnetic scale or MR ring
Multi-sensor measurement will be the focus on the stand of OGP (01283 585933), where a SmartScope Vantage will be on display. The system features the patented TeleStar 10:1 zoom lens, which is completely telecentric and automatically calibrated for distortion free, high fidelity images. All Vantages support tactile, micro and laser sensors.
Lasers have become an integral part of the medical device manufacturing industry, with solutions from Rofin (01327 701100) available for a range of medical applications, including the high speed production of miniature cardio-vascular stents, creating intricate spot welds of less than 100 micron, welding and joining plastic components or creating high quality marks on implants.
The Rofin EasyMark II system uses a diode-pumped Nd:YVO4 laser source to provide non-contact, abrasion-resistant, permanent marking, while laser welding with Rofin's StarWeld provides a stable platform with four precision axes, which can be controlled manually or with full CNC.
Image: Rofin's EasyMark
Over on the stand of Telsonic (01202 697340), ultrasonic welding is the preferred joining technology. Soniqtwist is an innovative torsional welding technique that enables micron thin seals and membranes to be welded, without the risk of damage or perforation to delicate medical parts.
If springs or wire forms are on the shopping list, then William Hughes (01963 363377) has the resources to solve a range of engineering challenges. The company has recently invested in new UK manufacturing facilities and precision test equipment, while a purpose-built factory in Bulgaria is now in its seventh year of production.
Image: Wire and spring forms are William Hughes' niche
Similarly, the Springmasters Group (01527 521000) can also boast recent multi-million pound investment to support its range of compression, extension, torsion and flat metal springs.
This year's two-day MEDTEC UK Conference (Birmingham NEC, 6-7 April) will provide medical device professionals with insights into key topics such as regulation, intellectual property, risk management, process validation, innovation and project management – plus a full day devoted to the role of materials and coatings in product development.
Delegates at the MEDTEC UK Conference will also be able to hear a keynote address from NASA on how space-borne technologies are finding their way into advanced medical devices and applications – as well as other presentations from medical giants such as DePuy, Biotroniks and GE Healthcare. Visit www.medtecukshow.com for the full programme.
First published in Machinery, March 2011