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9/3/14     Ultra Precision Manufacturing Drives Medical Advances & Innovation. In niches of industry where ground-breaking technological developments seem to occur every other week, it is always tempting to focus on what’s next rather than the potential of what is available now. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the area of micro manufacturing, where with alarming frequency, what was impossible yesterday is becoming possible today. This presents massive opportunities for OEMs that are looking to innovate and produce more and more precise products and components. But it can also become confusing, as it can often seem as if today’s “go-to” technology solution will soon to be replaced by something quicker, more-cost effective, or more precise tomorrow.

What is vital is that OEMs partner with companies like Micro Engineering Solutions (MES) early in the design cycle in order to find the best fit technology for their project. MES has been working in the dynamic micro manufacturing niche for years, and is therefore aware of the potentials to exploit and the pitfalls to avoid, as well as areas of innovation that are dawning and which provide huge potential for product development and market exploitation. What is obvious to all involved in the micro manufacturing arena today is that recent ground-breaking manufacturing solutions offer the potential today for efficient and cost-effective mass manufacture. Technologies that yesterday were being proved and tested, and were seen at best as prototyping technologies, are now scalable and delivering millions of parts a year.

Neurological Device Development. One specific medical niche that focuses the requirement for an array of skills in the area of ultra-precision device development is neurological products and implants. Whereas today, the integration of nanometer-sized devices into biological systems is an everyday occurrence, a couple of years ago, this was not the case. The reason for this recent success is the development of ultra precision fabrication technologies, combined with the development and use of innovative materials that can be completely implanted and are biocompatible for extended periods of time.

Neural implants effectively communicate with the nervous system, and in many instances contain electronics that stimulate 37_neuro_implant_2healthy neurons, allowing for signals to bypass damaged areas of the brain or the central nervous system (CNS), thereby restoring function, easing pain, or preventing seizures. Much recent focus has been on the development of smaller and smaller electrodes, which are now implantable in the body without causing any adverse reactions. Here research is centered on the material within which the electronics are contained, often now a flexible polymer (instead of brittle silicone) which allows the device to conform with the live tissue in which it is implanted.

Non-electrical neurological products are also being developed due to advances in ultra precision manufacturing, such as micro-guide wires that allow surgeons to work on previously impossible to reach intracranial vessels. Today advances in micro manufacturing technologies make possible the manufacture of guide wires that are passed through catheters with internal lumens of 0.015 inches.

A huge challenge for such devices is the fact that the human brain and CNS are not a hospitable place for implants. Often the body attacks foreign materials in the CNS or surrounds it with a sheath, which can interfere with the device functionality, especially if it contains electrodes. The focus now is on neuro-protective coatings that make such micro devices implantable and efficacious for their proposed life. The fact that many of these neurological devices also cross the blood/brain barrier is another area that requires attention, as it is obviously vital that such implants don’t introduce pathogens or other materials that could induce an immune response.

For medical device OEMs, the burgeoning field of neurological surgery and treatment is a key sector, as the ability for micro manufacturing practitioners such as MES to assist in the production of smaller and smaller devices in an array of materials means that previously impossible neurological interventions will rapidly become the first line of treatment for many diseases, opening up huge commercial opportunities.