COMPAMED.de: So it’s similar to a 3D printer?
Gillner: That is correct; the technologies are similar to a 3D print. The difference being that in digital photonic production, you work with metals or ceramics with significantly higher accuracy and the produced components are functional. 3D printers often involve technologies that only depict a pure demonstration object. The printed components are made of plastic and can therefore not be exposed to large static, mechanical and dynamic pressure, because plastic immediately melts away again. Metals or ceramics are far more durable and are increasingly converted into functional and applicable medical devices by using photonic processes.
COMPAMED.de: Beam source concepts are also on the agenda at the LaserForum. What role do short and ultra-short pulse laser systems play in medical technology?
Gillner: There are two aspects of digital photonic production: either you build a material up layer-by-layer or you ablate it layer-by-layer and thus create a three-dimensional geometry. As new production lasers, ultra-short pulse lasers are capable of processing material with very high precision – in the range of several hundred nanometers. And all this without a thermal effect on the respective material.
This feature makes these lasers so interesting for medical technology. You can cut stents with an ultra-short laser for instance without losing the properties of cardiovascular implants.
COMPAMED.de: How big is the demand and the interest in optical technologies in the area of medical technology and why?
Gillner: The big advantage of laser technologies is that they are not tool-specific as is the case with milling or injection molding for example. You work with a contact-free beam, which meets the requirements for purity and contamination thresholds.
What’s more, the thermal effect is clearly less compared to other manufacturing processes. Medical technology likes to use laser technology as a tool due to its process variability and its damage threshold for different materials and applications. A highly flexible procedure is particularly interesting for single piece production.
You can also monitor aspects that play a big role in the production of heart pacemakers for example. Here the casings are welded and you are able to inspect every weld seam during the process. This in turn is important for product certification.