"The procedure is particularly interesting for single piece production"

Interview with Dr. Arnold Gillner, Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT

Laser manufacturing technologies are extremely flexible and precise. This is why they are also increasingly being applied in medical technology where individual items are often produced. Individualized implants can be directly produced from a computerized model thanks to digital photonic production.


Photo: Arnold Gillner

Dr. Arnold Gillner; © Fraunhofer ILT

At the LaserForum, which took place in November 2013 and which was created by the International Association of Microtechnology IVAM and the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT, experts discussed the latest technologies and their potential for medical technology. Dr. Arnold Gillner tells us more about digital photonic production at COMPAMED.de.

: The theme of the LaserForum was “Digital Photonic Production”. What does this term mean exactly?

Arnold Gillner: Digital photonic production is a new technology that is increasingly being applied. Compared to traditional ablation or intrinsic processes such as milling or injection molding, photonic processes make it possible to produce components directly from a digital model in a power-based and three-dimensional way.

COMPAMED.de: One of the main topics that were being discussed at the Forum was laser additive manufacturing processes. What solutions are currently available in this area?

Gillner: Selective laser melting (SLM) and laser metal deposition (LMD) are among the laser additive processes. Both technologies are photonic based and able to produce three-dimensional components based on computer data. SLM processes are characterized by low costs and high flexibility in the manufacturing process. Thanks to new system and process technologies, LMD processes on the other hand now also enter the world of micro and precision engineering.

COMPAMED.de: How important are optical technologies for medical technology?

Gillner: Medical technology usually needs very individual custom-made products such as implants. This is why these types of laser processes play a big role in this field.

Implants are often produced as individual items. Based on a CT image, patient-specific components that you only need once can be produced with the help of optical technologies. You don’t need to build a form and conduct complicated programming for milling technologies.
Photo: a component

Component dispensing from powders after the end of SLM process; © Fraunhofer ILT/Volker Lannert

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.

Photo: Michalina Chrzanowska; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

The interview was conducted by Michalina Chrzanowska and translated by Elena O'Meara.