The Surface Treatment Of Medical Components With Mass Finishing & Shot Blasting

By Colin Spellacy, Head of Sales, Rösler UK

In the demanding field of medical device manufacturing, the use of mass finishing and shot blasting technologies are critical in ensuring the production of components that adhere to the strictest standards of safety, reliability, and operational efficiency. These processes are not merely steps in the manufacturing sequence but are critical technologies that ensure each component achieves a level of surface integrity that is extremely important in medical applications. The necessity for such precision stems from the direct impact these components have on patient outcomes and device performance. 

The strategic application of these finishing technologies ensures that medical devices and medical components are not only manufactured to meet but often exceed the stringent regulatory requirements and quality standards set forth by governing bodies in the healthcare sector. The use of an array of versatile mass finishing and shot blasting processes indicates the medical industry’s commitment to excellence, underpinning the reliability and safety of medical devices that significantly impact patient care and treatment outcomes. This article will analyze what mass finishing and shot blasting can be used for when processing medical devices and components.

Mass Finishing Technologies

The mass finishing process is a mechanical-chemical technology for the surface finishing of a wide range of parts and components made from metal, ceramic, or plastics. Whether tumbling, vibratory finishing, or centrifugal finishing, mass finishing machines are filled with various abrasive media that work through mechanical forces and chemical reactions to achieve the desired surface quality on components. This approach is particularly effective for refining small to medium-sized parts characterised by complex shapes and geometries. By ensuring uniform treatment across all surfaces, mass finishing techniques adeptly eliminate microscopic irregularities and potential bacterial harbourage sites, significantly reducing the risk of infection or discomfort upon patient contact. The process is a crucial manufacturing step ensuring that the high standard sof safety and efficacy required for medical devices is maintained, particularly for those that are implantable or come into direct contact with patients.

A range of different mass finishing processing methods can address the often quite complex finishing requirements for medical devices and components. These different processing methods are tailored to the respective stage of manufacturing and the material being processed, which when looking for example at orthopaedic implants may include stainless steel alloys, cobalt & chromium alloys, titanium, or plastic. However, when looking at prosthetic and orthotic devices, non-ferrous light metals and special plastic materials such as carbon fibre are typically used. It is because of this significant range of materials used in medical applications that the versatility of mass finishing is so important.

In most instances, medical devices will require a number of finishing operations. First of all, parts need to be deburred, which involves the removal or significant reduction of burrs on the outer contours of workpieces, within drilled holes, and across various types of openings. This is accomplished through the use of specialist mass finishing machinery and grinding media, which work in unison to efficiently eliminate rough edges and protrusions. 

Next, it is necessary to grind and smooth the surfaces. The process of eliminating surface imperfections from medical workpieces, which often result from various shaping or machining operations, is a critical step in ensuring the highest quality of the finished product. These imperfections, if left unaddressed, can significantly affect the performance and aesthetic appeal of the component or device. To counteract these detrimental effects, mass finishing is employed to not only remove these flaws but also to drastically reduce the surface roughness, refining the texture of the workpiece, and preparing it for any further enhancement processes. Grinding and smoothing are not only about rectifying errors, they lay the groundwork for more advanced finishing techniques such as dry polishing and anodizing, (which adds a durable, corrosion-resistant layer, and requires a uniformly smooth surface to ensure the coating adheres properly and performs as expected). 

Dry polishing through the use of mass finishing can achieve exceptionally high gloss finishes on workpieces without leaving behind any “micro scratches.” This is made possible through the use of polishing media that is specifically tailored to match the material of the workpiece being polished, which ensures that the abrasive action is both effective and gentle, preserving the integrity of the workpiece while elevating its aesthetic appeal. Dry polishing can produce Ra (Roughness Average) values of less than 0.02 micrometres or Rz (Average Roughness Depth) values of less than 0.15 micrometres, indicative of a surface that is virtually flawless. Options for high-gloss finishes also exist when parts need to have a cosmetically appealing appearance.

Other mass finishing processes that can be used to affect the surface finish of medical components include ball burnishing and vibro peening. Ball burnishing is once again used to smooth a workpiece’s surface, enhancing its appearance and mechanical properties, and involves the use of small, hard balls — typically made of steel or carbon — that roll over the surface of the workpiece under pressure. The pressure compresses the surface layers of the material, reducing surface roughness and imparting a high gloss finish. Ball burnishing can also work-harden the surface of the workpiece, improving its resistance to wear and fatigue, and is often used on metals to achieve a mirror-like finish without removing material from the workpiece, making it distinct from abrasive polishing techniques.

Finally, vibro peening is used to improve the fatigue resistance of metal components and subjects the workpiece to repetitive impacts from small media agitated by vibration. The impacts induce plastic deformation on the surface and near-surface layers of the material, introducing compressive residual stresses and work-hardening the surface. This treatment reduces the risk of crack initiation and propagation, significantly improving the workpiece’s fatigue life. 

Shot Blasting Technologies

Shot blasting stands out as a robust finishing method where abrasive particles are propelled at high velocities towards the surface of a component. It is a versatile process which is well suited to tasks ranging from surface cleaning and peening — which increases the material’s strength — to texturing surfaces to enhance the bonding of subsequent layers, such as paint or coatings. It is used where the need for pristine surface conditions to ensure optimal adherence and performance of coatings is paramount such as in the medical sector.

Shot blasting is critical not only for aesthetic improvements but also for functional enhancements of parts. In the medical device industry, it is employed to prepare surfaces of surgical tools and implants, ensuring they are free from contaminants and possess the necessary surface characteristics for safe and effective use. The widespread adoption of shot blasting across diverse medical applications underscores its significant role in enhancing the quality, safety, and performance of products by providing a meticulously prepared surface for further processing and finishing steps.

For medical device and medical component manufacturers, shot blasting can be used to achieve a variety of objectives. 

For example, it is a highly efficient way of rapidly removing residual sand and ceramic layers from workpieces post-casting, employing high-velocity steel or metallic pellets to clean and texture the surface for further finishing processes like painting or coating. This technique not only eliminates potential surface defects and weaknesses, but also enhances the workpiece’s structural integrity through surface compression, increasing its resistance to stress, fatigue, and corrosion. 

Shot blasting also effectively eradicates forging scale and oxide layers that accumulate on workpieces during forging and subsequent heat treatment operations, ensuring a clean and uniform surface, and with the right blast media all kinds of surface imperfections can be eliminated. Even burrs and flashes from die-casting operations can be removed fully automatically at low costs.

Shot blasting tends to leave a matt finish on shiny metallic surfaces, which is especially crucial for instruments and medical equipment used in operating rooms. This finish helps in preventing glare, thereby enhancing the usability and safety of these tools under the bright lights of an operating environment. Subtler and more precision controlled shot blasting techniques are usually employed for such medical instruments. 

Finally, the shot blasting process is perfect for surface texturing or roughening which significantly enhances the surface area of a workpiece, an essential preparatory step for both painting and gluing operations. This increase in surface area ensures that coatings and adhesives have more material to adhere to, resulting in a stronger, more durable bond. The specific roughness values imparted to the workpiece surface can vary widely, depending on the type of blast media employed during the texturing process. From fine sands to coarser grits, each type of media has the potential to create a unique surface profile, tailored to the requirements of the subsequent finishing operation. This customisable aspect of the texturing process allows for a high degree of control over the final appearance and functionality of the medical components in question, making it a critical step in the manufacturing process for ensuring overall quality and longevity of the final product.

Selecting A Finishing Supplier

In the specialised domain of medical device production, the selection of a supplier for mass finishing and shot blasting technologies is a critical decision that impacts the quality, safety, and effectiveness of the finished products. For manufacturers, it’s imperative to partner with suppliers who not only possess advanced technological capabilities but also have a deep understanding of the industry’s requirements, a commitment to continuous innovation, and a proven track record of delivering superior results. 

Your chosen supplier should ideally have a long pedigree in the provision of finishing technologies, and a comprehensive technical ability to process a diverse array of materials and component geometries, facilitated by an extensive assortment of machines and abrasive media designed to meet the specific finishing needs of a range of medical devices.

A commitment to research and development plays a pivotal role in maintaining a market-leading position when it comes to producing mass finishing and shot blasting technologies, ensuring that solutions are not just current but also predictive of future industry needs. A supplier with such a demonstrable forward-thinking approach means the provision of efficient, cost-effective, repeatable finishing solutions vital when considering the stringent regulatory environment of the medical industry, where compliance with quality standards is non-negotiable and directly correlates with patient safety and product efficacy.

For over 80 years, the privately owned Rösler Oberflächentechnik GmbH has been actively engaged in the field of surface preparation and surface finishing. As global market leader, we offer a comprehensive portfolio of equipment, consumables and services around the mass finishing and shot blasting technologies for a wide spectrum of different industries. Our range of about 15,000 consumables, developed in our Customer Experience Centers and laboratories located all over the world, specifically serves our customers for resolving their individual finishing needs. Under the brand name AM Solutions, we offer numerous equipment solutions and services in the area of additive manufacturing/3D printing. Last-but-not-least, as our central training center the Rösler Academy offers practical, hands-on seminars to the subjects mass finishing, shot blasting and additive manufacturing.  The Rösler group has a global network of 15 locations and approx. 150 sales agents. 

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