Can chemical etching benefit medical device manufacturers?


The medical industry clearly needs the highest standard of precision metal parts in order to ensure that surgical instruments, for example, perform properly and without fault. Metal parts used in medical applications also require a combination of corrosion resistance, strength properties, and material biocompatibility. They often have to be small, complex design tools. Chemical etching is a method of manufacturing metals that can guarantee such high quality and reliability.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the main benefits of the chemical etching process and how it applies to the medical industry. Most of the benefits come from the very nature of the chemical etching process, which is able to shape and engrave metal into fine, precise and intricate designs without affecting the inherent properties of the metal. This is where the manufacturing technique using chemical etching really shines and offers a multitude of benefits within the medical industry.

Micro parts for medical devices

Thanks to chemical etching, we are able to produce miniature components that are complex, ultra-precise and without the constraints or burrs of biocompatible materials in a few days. Chemical etching also makes it possible to achieve thicknesses of 25 μm for example. Depending on the metal, 10% of a material’s thickness can be chemically etched with a minimum tolerance of 12 µm, and other possibilities may exist as needed.

A wide range of practical applications can be found, from filtration and precision calibration products to microfluidics and medical implants. Here is a sample of some of the products that we are able to produce through chemical etching:

  • Diaphragms
  • Microfluidic channels
  • Microreplication
  • Hearing aid components
  • Precision mesh
  • Precision sieve
  • Masks: optics, evaporation and sputtering
  • Surgical blades

Mass production of medical devices

Through the process of using etching agents that erode the metal, we are able to go from prototyping to full scale production runs in just a few days. This is because we don’t need to machine the stencils or work on just one part of the sheet – chemical etching works simultaneously on the whole part. As the design of the stencil / pattern is done entirely on the computer, it is easy to adjust the prototype until the final product is accepted. Again, due to the very nature of the chemical etching manufacturing method, we are able to achieve the highest quality quality that is also reproducible on a large scale, which is important in the medical industry. .

Medical alloys

Stainless steel is one of the most common alloys used in virtually every industry and will undoubtedly end up even in your cutlery drawer. There are good reasons why it is so widely used. Chromium provides resistance to corrosion and scratches, nickel provides a smooth, polished finish, and molybdenum improves hardness and helps maintain a sharp edge when used in medical instruments. At Tecan, stainless steel is one of our most commonly used metals precisely because of these great advantages.

Another alloy commonly used in the medical industry is the cobalt-chromium-based alloy, which is often found in dental and orthopedic implants. These materials are resistant to corrosion and wear, have excellent biocompatibility, and have properties that mimic those of the body structures they replace.

Both alloys (as well as others such as titanium) offer the perfect properties for use in the medical industry and therefore are excellent choices for medical instruments.

Advantages of chemically engraved parts

As mentioned previously, chemical etching provides a finished product without burr or stress and, as such, requiring little or no post-processing. Since the etchant only erodes unwanted material, the metal does not experience any embrittlement or heat induced distortion as a result of a high energy process such as laser or machine stamping, which can alter the structure of metals. During the engraving process, metals retain all of their original desired properties, and we are left with the end result after the manufacturing process is complete.

Image courtesy of Tecan

Close-up on a medical grade sieve.

Complex designs from chemical etching

Many medical products require extremely precise and intricately designed metal parts. One of the great advantages of using chemical etching in the manufacturing process is that the complexity of the design is not a limiting factor. The stencils can be created on computer software and then passed to the photosensitive resin to be shaped by the CAD designed stencil to create the desired shape. This results in a fast and transparent manufacturing method which is also more affordable because it is less involved in the production process than in other engraving / cutting methods. Its easily iterative digital tooling is fully controllable, scalable and customizable to suit all requirements. This guarantees a low-risk, economical production process with lead times measured in days, not weeks.

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