Next: Micromanufacturing

By Noah Graff

Today’s Machining World Archive: December 2008 Volume 4 Issue 12


Today doctors often perform minimally invasive surgery, using small instruments fitting through 1 – 2 cm incisions. Still, procedures such as diagnosing symptoms and processing samples within a vein remain impractical with existing technology.

“In 10 years, will doctors have singular devices small enough to do multiple, diverse medical procedures inside a vein?”

I believe that within the next 10 years we will see singular medical devices that, while fitting within typical catheters, can process samples, diagnose symptoms and enact simple medical procedures. As a micro-EDM manufacturer and supplier we rely heavily on our customers’ needs and their future desires in bringing our next products online. One of our research departments that focuses on integrating these two processes to create multi-functional single devices, shows definite promise. Improved forms can be achieved to allow for enhanced chemical and biological micro-fluids, as well as more reliable mechanical and electrical systems all within the same component. By doing all of this from the same platform it should be functionally easier to micro-target and remove the problem while reducing impact to the surrounding tissues.

Jonathan Montgomery
Research and Development Engineer
SmalTec International

The question evokes science fiction images of nanobots patrolling our veins and making repairs. Most of the experts I’ve heard or with whom I’ve spoken don’t see this as feasible in the near future, if at all — I agree with them. It’s a seductive but probably impractical image. Nevertheless, medicine is moving generally toward being less invasive and thus requiring smaller tools. Current nanotechnology is focused principally in materials rather than tools and devices. However, we are likely to see an array of very small medical devices in the next decade — although I doubt they will be able to perform multiple procedures in a vein independent of guide wires, introducers and catheters to propel and control them.

Bernie Liebler
Director, Technology and Regulatory Affairs
Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed)

The Facts:

Characteristics of components produced with micromanufacturing:
• Sizes of around .001 – .5 inches
• Contain very complex 3-D (free-form) surfaces
• Employ a wide range of engineering materials

More than 60 drugs and drug-delivery systems are based on nanotechnology, and more than 90 medical devices or diagnostic tests, are already being tested, according to NanoBiotech News.

One device includes the use of quantum dots, bits of material so tiny that they are often just a few atoms across. The dots are used as research tools to help understand how proteins, DNA and other biological molecules attach to transport systems inside cells.

A micrometer equals one-millionth of a meter: Micrometers are practical for measuring the width of a hair (measures about 200 μ across), a particle of pollen, red blood cells, baker’s yeast and some bacteria.
A nanometer equals one-billionth of a meter: Nanometers are practical for measuring the size of bacterial cells (a few hundred nm across), viruses, width of strands of DNA and RNA or thickness of a cell membrane.

The word nanotechnology was conceived by Norio Taniguchi in 1974 to signify machining with tolerances of less than a micron. Today it has been redefined as the world of controlling matter on the nanometer (one billionth of a meter) scale.

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