Apr 30 2018
By Matt Pullen
Please tell us a bit about the company and why you attended the MedTech Innovation Expo.
As a laser systems distributor and technical service provider, TLM is in a great position to have a huge range of capabilities under their belt and the technical expertise to innovatively apply these in a range of industry sectors.
The medical sector is a very important market for TLM, the products we deal with are of very high value and precision. For our customers, it’s important to use manufacturing technology such as laser welding (plastics and metals), laser 3D printing and laser marking to ensure a reliable, traceable and consistent product.
Most importantly, however, it’s important to do so in an informed knowledgeable way. With well over a century of laser expertise amongst the TLM team, we can confidently provide highly effective solutions to a very innovative and technically strong market. Therefore, a presence at MedTech expo is an important part of ensuring we achieve that goal.
Were you featuring a specific product or service?
One of our main focusses of the show was to showcase our laser marking products from FOBA laser, and more specifically, their new software upgrade. These systems provide laser marks for product identification inline with the new UDI (Unique Device Identification) legislation.
This legislation is set to come into force in the UK and EU throughout the next 5 years and is already in place in the USA; it requires all medical devices to be marked with a permeant mark to allow complete traceability and identification. The marks themselves have been specifically configured not to remove any material, not to produce an oxide layer on metallic devices (both surgical and implantable) but most importantly, they’re capable of lasting hundreds of cycles of autoclave sterilization.
How are your services and products unique?
One of the unique selling points of this system is the built-in vision system which provides ‘through the lens’ vision. Essentially, the camera replicates the laser's line of sight of the laser processing area. The software accompanying this capability allows for operators to place a part, which is recognized against pre-programmed geometric identifiers.
If it’s the correct part and facing the correct way up, then the system will allow a mark. If not, it will show an alignment failure and will not produce a mark, therefore, ensuring that the wrong mark is not put on the wrong component. This reduces scrap and the costly risk of the wrong parts being sent to a customer.
Assuming the correct part has been inserted the correct way up within a tolerance of +/-12.5mm, then the laser marking job will be automatically aligned to the part, compensating for any movement in the X, Y, and theta to the part. This ensures the mark is always in the correct place.
Finally, the software will then verify the laser mark -2D codes can be graded and grading criteria can be set by the user. Using OCR (optical character recognition) and OCV (optical character verification), marks are checked against image files or database information before being approved. This process means that no faulty parts with incorrect marks can leave a production process. It also prevents against part defects; if a supplier has altered a material composition, this will inevitably change the mark quality on the part’s surface.
Of course if the mark is improved then everyone is happy, however, we’ve experienced cases where this has occurred and a manufacturer was not made aware of a material change. In this circumstance it was a simple case of laser parameter change, however, it serves as an effective tool to ensure product consistency as well as mark consistency.
Furthermore, this process can also be configured to read part numbers and 2D matrix codes and feed them into a database, helping to digitalize the tracking of parts and providing a simple avenue through which customers can adopt Industry 4.0 processes.
Luckily, these hugely valuable software capabilities take less than 0.4 seconds, so there is little impact on manufacturing times. Now, the software upgrade I mentioned has enhanced this process so that the +/-12.5mm tolerance that parts had to be within has been expanded to encompass the entire 120mm x 120mm processing area. This could offer huge savings for manufacturers in terms of tooling costs and allow for the marking of small batches and prototype products to be much easier.
What were you hoping to get out of the conference?
Well, the bottom line is sales. We need to keep the lights on somehow! However, what we wanted from the show was to maintain and expand our industry presence by networking with customers new and old and promoting our entire product range from laser marking to laser welding, laser plastic welding, laser cutting, laser 3D printing and laser packaging processing.
We were especially keen to gauge a market reaction to the new software update described above and the exact value this can offer to medical device manufacturers and also continue to push for greater awareness on UDI legislation and what people need to be aware of to abide by it and how TLM laser can help.