Medical engineering is an exciting growth sector. FUCHS develops high-performance cutting fluids for the manufacture of implants and has been able to impress a group of discerning customers with its innovative power.
The field of medical engineering is booming. This can largely be attributed to the ever-increasing life expectancy of human beings and a heightened sense of awareness for health issues, as well as the rapid population growth being encountered in the emerging markets, which stimulates demand. However, the recent growth in this sector would not even be possible without the specialized production technology now available.
The global market for medical equipment, surgical instruments, and in particular implants, which can significantly improve the quality of life for patients, generated revenue of around €221 billion in 2012 and is growing at a steady rate of around 7% per year. The US represents the largest market and, with revenue of around €22 billion, Germany was the number three player in the global business. Medical engineering is a sector of the future, for which FUCHS has been developing innovative, high-performance products for more than ten years.
The requirements of cutting fluids in the medical engineering sector are vast. Besides stainless steels, the sector is now increasingly using titanium and cobalt alloys in the manufacture of implants. These materials excel through their strength, but precisely this strength also makes the metal cutting processes employed during production, such as drilling or milling, more difficult. This requires engineering excellence which is also needed from the cutting fluid. To this end, the specialists at FUCHS develop solutions tailored specifically to the respective process or application. “We take the highly specific requirements of our customers into our laboratory,” explains Frank Thomas, Head of the “Non water-miscible cutting and quenching fluids” unit. “Quality”, adds Dr. Christine Fuchs, Head of Global R & D, “is immensely important in this regard.”
Besides the specific performance, FUCHS therefore also carries out comprehensive, in-depth tests of the long-term availability of the raw materials used, as well as their compatibility for human beings.
Manufacturers of knee and hip implants or dental implant pins always ensure that their products are absolutely media-free and sterile before they are implanted in the human body. However, a microscopic amount of residue, for example from a cutting fluid, can lead to potential complications, even after extremely intensive cleaning. “This is a highly sensitive sector, for which we pre-screen our raw materials and subject them to rigorous testing procedures,” stresses Frank Thomas. The influence of all cutting fluids is therefore tested thoroughly, including their influence on cell growth. Products that have passed the test include PLANTOCUT 10 SR, a cutting fluid made from synthetic ester oils based on renewable raw materials that is kind to skin and quickly biodegradable. “These cytotoxicological tests offer manufacturers and users the highest degree of security,” stresses the chemical engineer. “And they are a USP that helps us stand out from the rest of the market.” This also applies to service, as FUCHS offers a complete all-around package – from initial consulting, all the way through to regular process checks on the customer’s premises.
Our specialist knowledge of these cutting fluids is not reserved exclusively for our own laboratories. Indeed, a comprehensive international employee network, which FUCHS is keen to further expand over the course of the next few years, ensures that the results of new research activities and information on innovative technological processes flow into the Group’s various locations around the globe. “We have an excellent global network, which provides us with synergy effects for research and development,” underlines Dr. Christine Fuchs. “And we are able to guarantee our high quality standards worldwide.”
The chemical engineer is keen to stress that these synergies have also been filtering through to other sectors for some time. For example, FUCHS has already been able to gather valuable experience in the field of titanium cutting for the aerospace industry, which proved extremely useful to the experts when developing cutting fluids for the field of medical engineering. The Head of R&D and her colleague agree: “FUCHS is present in many fields, and we all draw benefits from the comprehensive overall experience within the company.” The two staff members were therefore able to pass on their own special knowledge to other fields too – for example the automotive industry, which is increasingly requiring high strength and heat-resistant materials due to the trend toward lightweight construction and downsizing.
THE FUTURE LIES IN MAGNESIUM
Whenever taking a look into the future of medical engineering, researchers and developers quickly turn to the topic of magnesium alloys. Screws and plates made of magnesium can be fully broken down by the human body. In future, a broken bone may then no longer require any further surgical intervention. This is a potentially far-reaching future technology, for which FUCHS already has suitable products in its portfolio and which can make the whole experience far less stressful for patients.