When you pay a visit to your doctor or any healthcare facility, have you ever noticed how many moving parts are needed to make the place work? Doctors use simple devices such as otoscopes and stethoscopes during checkups. In the operating room, a literal suite of surgical tools is prepped and used for even the most minor operations.
There are also the various syringes and plastic cannulas used to administer medicine, not to mention the oral pharmaceuticals, surgical implants, and dental implants prescribed to patients when needed.
To make sense out of all this chaos, many healthcare manufacturers have turned to laser marking technology. How are lasers used during the manufacture of these medical devices, and why are they quickly becoming the next big thing?
The benefits of laser marking
Lasers are highly controlled beams of light that have been integrated into many modern manufacturing processes. For the healthcare industry, lasers are mostly used as a reliable and customizable means of marking products for traceability. This has become an essential practice after the FDA has decreed that all medical devices need to be marked with a UDI, or a unique device identifier. What makes laser marking technology an excellent choice for medical devices?
Compared to traditional marking using inks or dot peen engraving, laser marking is much faster. With just a few seconds to finish one job, a process that use laser marking can enjoy increased throughput. A single piece of laser marking equipment can work with a variety of materials and geometries, so machine operators won’t need to spend time doing tool changes.
Medical devices need to be marked in a manner that retains their surface integrity. A surgical tool with an uneven surface only introduces areas for potential contamination. Laser marking is especially suited to avoid this very situation through a process called annealing.
In annealing, an oxide layer is formed at the surface of the tool or the device without melting the metal. This forms a high-contrast mark that is clear enough to be recognized by both man and machine while retaining the perfectly smooth finish of the tool or device.
Laser marking technology is versatile in more ways than one. It can be used across a wide range of typical materials used in healthcare devices such as stainless steel, alloys, plastics, or ceramics. The companion software of a laser marking machine can even have a materials database which makes it easy for the operator to switch from one material to another. An object of any shape, as long as it can fit on the print platform, can reliably be marked by a fiber laser.
Moreover, laser marking can be used for dynamic content. Whether you need to mark items with unique serial numbers, production codes, or QR codes, a laser marking machine is intelligent enough to handle your dynamic marking requirements automatically.
Laser marking is a non-contact technology. Unlike marking using dot peen engraving, items marked using lasers practically are under no risk of secondary damage. Fewer damaged items during production means less waste, and more revenues for your company.
Moreover, marks made using laser technology are some of the most permanent. In the medical field, where tools and devices can be exposed to extreme heat, organic material, or corrosive fluids, laser marking offers the most reliable method to maintain traceability.
Examples of laser marking in healthcare products
Many healthcare manufacturers have already recognized the benefits of laser marking technology and have harnessed them to their advantage.
One of the challenges of complying with the requirement of marking surgical tools with UDI codes is that some of these tools can be very small. This isn’t a problem for laser technology. Laser marking can reproduce highly intricate details on even the most complicated geometries. Even with small fonts, the marks made by lasers still look clean and are legible.
Since laser marking eliminates the need for inks, laser marked implants are highly biocompatible. Even if implants have to stay inside a patient’s body for several years, the marks made by laser technology remain unaffected by exposure to bodily fluids. Moreover, by retaining the smooth surface of the implants, laser marking reduces the risk of unwanted bacterial growth.
With stricter regulations on labeling of pharmaceutical products, the biggest challenge of the industry is selecting a marking technology that can keep up with their high throughput requirements. Laser marking isn’t just fast, but its ability to work with dynamic data for marking expiration dates and production codes greatly simplifies the process. Since marks made by lasers are non-toxic, it’s even possible to create markings on the capsules themselves.
In such a competitive industry, healthcare manufacturers can use all the advantages they can get. Laser marking technology offers such wide-ranging benefits that can ripple through all stages of the supply chain: from healthcare manufacturers to medical service providers, and their patients. If you’re still curious about how laser marking can boost your position in the medical sector, then we’ll be glad to talk with you.