Mitsubishi Materials Corporation supporting the global medical industry

Demand in the medical equipment industry has increased globally. Each manufactured part plays an important role in saving lives, this demands consistently high production quality and accuracy. Most medical equipment manufacturer production bases are in Western Europe and North America; and in this feature, we visited five major manufacturers in Switzerland, France and the United States to ask about their relationship with Mitsubishi Materials and its contribution to their business.

PART1: Laubscher (Switzerland)

Innovating precision parts machining that creates parts used for medical care equipment

Manufacturing millions of precision parts

The first stop on our trip was Laubscher in Switzerland. The company manufactures a wide range of precision parts with diameters measuring less than 42 mm. Laubscher’s 280 employees work daily to realise its goal of responding to the full range of manufacturing requirements from customers around the world. While processing ultra-precision parts made from difficult-to-cut materials with diameters measuring as small as 0.3 mm is no easy task, Laubscher manages to handle more than 10,000 different product types annually and more than 2 million products per day. The majority of products are intended for use in the medical industry. Others are used in the manufacture of watches, automobiles and electric products as well as in construction projects. During this visit, we interviewed Manfred Laubscher, Manager of the Technology and Production Department, and Alain Kiener, Chief of Tool Purchasing, about small-part machining tools and joint projects undertaken with Mitsubishi Materials.

Seeking highest quality and performance

About 400 out of the 500 machine tools used at the plant in Täuffelen, Switzerland are lathes. Processing a range of products with diameters measuring between 0.3 mm and 42 mm requires different machining techniques. To handle these different needs, the wide range of machines employed includes small automatic lathes with both movable and fixed main spindles, automatic lathes with multiple spindles and machining centres. “We manufacture equipment parts used in various areas of medicine; however, none of these are intended for implantation,” said Manfred Laubscher. Typically the products made are tools used during artificial joint replacement, for inserting stents to treat vascular occlusions and inhalers for patients with asthma. The main materials are austenitic stainless steels such as SUS303 (1.4305) and SUS304 (1.4301). “In order to ensure consistent quality, we need to use the highest quality cutting tools,” says Alain Kiener. “There are many tool manufacturers, but few manufacturers provide tools for precision parts machining. We ask tool manufacturers to produce high quality tools for our products and Mitsubishi Materials is one of our most reliable business partners.”

Manfred Laubscher,
Laubscher Technology and Production Department Manager

(From left to right)
Daniel Dietsch, Six Sigma Tools
Alain Kiener, Laubscher
Manfred Laubscher, Laubscher
Marco Schneider, Laubscher
Kobi Tobler, Mitsubishi Materials

Possibilities from partnerships

Laubscher began discussing a change in turning inserts with the goal of achieving better quality and cost performance. They required highly versatile tools that enabled reproducible quality and reduction of machining costs. They asked Mitsubishi Materials to produce prototypes of ISO turning inserts for difficult-to-cut materials. Both companies were enthusiastic about taking this step forward. “First, we experimented with fine boring on leadfree cutting steel for medical equipment parts utilizing ISO DCMT 11 size inserts. We found immediately that the tool was very effective. Next, we used the same tools with another machine in the same department, which also yielded extremely good results. Not only did the lifetime of the Al-Rich coating MP9015 increase twofold, but all aspects of performance - surface finish, appearance, and machinability - significantly improved compared with existing products. Furthermore, it enabled us to double the feed and speed. Such significant improvement does not happen often,” said Alain Kiener. He added, “The test for the insert was satisfactory, so we would like to use it with different machines in other departments.” Since the inserts are highly versatile, Alain Kiener wants to use them for more production lines as a standard tool.

Further expectations

Laubscher also focuses on precision small-part machining. Alain Kiener said, “Currently, we use a tool made by Mitsubishi Materials to machine holes measuring between 0.3 mm and 6 mm in diameter. We would like to use smaller sizes between 0.3 mm and 3 mm. Cooperation with Mitsubishi Materials is extremely important for us in this business segment.”
Kobi Tobler of Mitsubishi Materials and Daniel Dietsch of Six Sigma Tools* said, “We are supporting the improvement of tools with smaller diameters.” In fact, feedback from Laubscher, including requests and measures for improvement are sent directly to Japan from Switzerland, then Mitsubishi Materials starts the development and manufacture of the requested tools. Alain Kiener said in the end, “As Laubscher increases machining of precision small parts, the importance of using tools made by Mitsubishi Materials also increases. We would like to increase our synergy and find effective solutions through a long-term partnership. Mitsubishi Materials provides a wide variety of products and this allows us to find the best cutting tools for different type of parts in different applications. We are very keen to maintain our partnership.”

*Six Sigma Tools is an authorised distributor of Mitsubishi Materials tools in Switzerland


PART2: Mediliant (Switzerland)

Manufacturing high quality implants as a technical partner

Manufacturing more than 500,000 implants per year

The next stop on our visit was Mediliant, a manufacturer in Le Locle, Switzerland. It has 50 employees and manufactures more than 500,000 implants per year. Here they manufacture titanium screws, plates, nails and cages as well as products made of stainless steel and cobalt chrome alloys. We interviewed Nicolas Pinguet, an engineer in the cutting department, Nicolas Foulaz, an engineer in the turning department and Laurent Ferreux, Manager of R&D and Industry, about Mediliant’s relationship with Mitsubishi Materials.

Expanding tool life threefold

Mitsubishi Materials currently provides several tools to the Le Locle plant, but Mediliant was looking for a long-life rough machining tool to reduce the need for frequent changes, decrease the work associated with changes and improve machine utilisation rates. They were also looking to reduce per-part tool cost. “We needed to machine Ti-6AL-4V (Grade 5) bone plates from block material.” Mediliant uses both low-and high-rigidity type machines, and required an end mill that would work efficiently on both types. Mitsubishi Materials proposed the SMART MIRACLE (VQ) end mill. “The tool life of the Ø12 mm (R2.5 mm) corner radius end mill was expanded to 640 minutes, three times that of the previous tool (200 minutes),” said a smiling Nicolas Pinguet. Kobi Tobler of Mitsubishi Materials and Daniel Dietsch of Six Sigma Tools* added, “SMART MIRACLE coating’s Zero μ surface and extremely sharp tool edge reduces chips and cutting forces and the irregular helix improves vibration proofing.” Mediliant has now adopted the end mill for all of eight of its milling machines to process similar parts.

High quality turning machining

Mitsubishi Materials provides a wide range of precision machining tools that meet most turning machining needs. The wide range types provided include those for general turning, profiling, grooving, parting and semi finishing (pre-grinding) for small-size turning machines. Mitsubishi Materials also provides tools for boring in holes from 2.2 mm, drills from 0.1 mm. Furthermore, Mitsubishi Materials provides VQXL (small-diameter 4-flute long neck end mill) developed to machine the head of Torx screws for osteosynthesis. Mediliant uses the uncoated turning inserts series (MT9000) and the SMART MIRACLE end mill range. Mediliant turns titanium alloy components with diameters of 5 mm to 16 mm and has high regard for tools from Mitsubishi Materials. Nicolas Foulaz said, „Normally, the chips produced at lowspeed when turning titanium alloy screws in small-size automatic lathes damages inserts and impedes our ability to ensure stable product quality. In addition, large changes of machining speed resulted in uneven surface roughness. However, Mitsubishi Materials MP9000 and MT9000 series of inserts for difficult-to-cut materials solved this problem,” said Nicolas Foulaz. He continued, “The inserts deliver impressive product life and the finished surface is extremely good compared with the previous insert.” Mitsubishi Materials continues to turn customer feedback into improvements and provides new solutions on an ongoing basis.

*Six Sigma Tools is an authorised distributor of Mitsubishi Materials tools in Switzerland

Nicolas Foulaz, Mediliant

(3rd from the left) Arnaud Boujon, Mediliant
(3rd from the right) Nicolas Pinguet, Mediliant
(1st from the right) Laurent Ferreux, Mediliant

Solving problems together

Mitsubishi Materials is a long-term technical partner helping Mediliant to solve problems and realize improvements in manufacturing. Mediliant is now planning to adopt the SMART MIRACLE end mill for rough machining to increase efficiency because of its excellent performance in discharging chips.
“We expect our manufacturers to handle comprehensive quality management in the areas of raw materials, highprecision machining and quality. We chose Mitsubishi Materials as a capable partner and supplier,” said Laurent Ferreux.

PART3: Greatbatch Medical (France)

Acquiring the best machining tools to improve productivity

Prosthesis specialist

After Switzerland, we headed to France. The third stop on our trip was Greatbatch Medical’s Chaumont Plant, which serves as the centre for technical development and research for medical engineering. It is a well-known global company specializing in orthopedic implants and prosthetic apparatus, for which demand has been growing due to the world’s aging population. It has 10,000 employees in Europe and the U.S. The Chaumont Plant is located in Champagne, France and serves as an important base for the Integer Group, which produces hip, shoulder and spine implants. It is also a pillar of the company’s management strategy. Greatbatch Medical is currently active in employee recruitment, plant and equipment investment and facility enlargement to ensure future profits and achieve the goals set forth in its business expansion plan. We interviewed technical experts Richard Millot and Benjamin Martin about their approaches to new materials and the improvement of on-site productivity.

Machining new materials

Richard Millot, head of machining tools at Greatbatch Medical, said, “Mitsubishi Materials is our special business partner and it is essential for us to have close communication with Bento Valenté, technical coordinator for Mitsubishi Materials France. Both companies have communicated closely from the beginning of our partnership and our approaches to the machining of new materials such as cobalt chrome alloys and polyether ether ketone (PEEK) have strengthened that partnership.” Richard Millot added, “These materials are very new for our plant and their use is being expanded, plus they form the centerpiece of our improvements in machining. Mitsubishi Materials provides essential technical support, proposals for improvement and high-functionality tool development. For example, an important element that has a significant impact on the improvement of machining extremely thin parts (0.1mm thickness) and hard-to- cut materials is the selection of tools.” After talking to us, he invited us to tour Greatbatch Medical facilities to see the results of our joint development.

(Left) Richard Millot, Greatbatch Medical
(Right) Bento Valenté, Mitsubishi Materials, France

(Front row, left)
Eric Crosland, Mitsubishi Materials in France
(Back row, left)
Stéphane Ligneul, Mitsubishi Materials in France
(Back row, middle)
Benjamin Martin, Greatbatch Medical

Contributing to increased productivity

The PEEK machining site is kept at a temperature of 21 degrees Celsius. The high-precision corner radius end mills (VCPSRB series) they use start from diameter 0.6 mm. These tools reduce the chips during the machining of disks used for cervical implants, enabling high-precision and producing smooth surfaces. “This outstanding achievement was made possible by the excellent cooperation we received from Mitsubishi Materials, and it helped us to increase productivity.” They also chose SMART MIRACLE (VQ) end mills, with improved welding resistance and IMPACT MIRACLE (VF) type solid end mills. These end mills are optimized forms that contribute to efficient chip discharge and reduced vibration, two problems that are usually faced when machining difficult-to-cut materials. The coating exhibits excellent abrasion resistance, yielding extremely favorable results during thin plate machining of cobalt chrome alloy (HRC40-45). “Utilization of variable helix end mills suggested by Bento Valenté resulted in a significant vibration reduction effect that helped us realize high-performance titanium alloy cutting on a machining centre at a feed of more than 1,000 mm/min. This had been impossible with previous tools. Successful evaluations of tool life (cost), safety, and successful machining of the hardened layer cleared the way for adoption of these tools from Mitsubishi,” said Benjamin Martin. Furthermore, using the MWS type small-diameter super-long drill with a through coolant hole (Ø1.3 mm) to machine deep holes made it possible to reduce the cycle time (30D depth) by 75%.

Future development

In addition to other projects, Greatbatch Medical is working on new product developments to increase machining efficiency and productivity that will ultimately allow a better response to the needs of patients. “In order to achieve this goal, our technical production team is planning to use the Mitsubishi Materials Technical Center in Valencia, Spain.” These visions are aimed at fully utilizing tool performance to address issues at the production site. Such cooperation enhances the close relationship between Mitsubishi Materials and Greatbatch Medical.

PART4: Nexxt Spine (USA)

Delivering High-precision Tools to Restore Patients’ Quality of Life


(Left) Robert D. Thomas II, Nexxt Spine (Right) Dan McCloskey, Mitsubishi Materials U.S.A.

Saving patients who struggle with debilitating spinal conditions

Turning next to the United States, we visited Nexxt Spine in Indiana, a medical device company dedicated to improving patient outcomes for patients who struggle with debilitating spinal conditions by manufacturing such medical instruments as bone screws, plates and interbodies. Founded in 2009, Nexxt Spine has proven to be a leader in the industry with its state of the art, on-site manufacturing facility located in Noblesville, IN. Having established an integrated system that manufactures 100% of all spinal implants and 95% of surgical instruments, it focuses on developing products that increase procedural efficiency through innovation. During our visit to Nexxt Spine, we spoke with Manufacturing Manager, Robert Thomas and Beau Riser, Processing Engineer, who highlighted current spine related applications and breakthrough technology.

Products are processed at an overwhelmingly faster speed

Nexxt Spine mainly manufactures bone screws, plates and interbodies. “We make art caddies, which hold all implants,” says Robert Thomas. “We mostly use aluminium and PEEK, but we actually also have a new interbody coming out, called NanoMatrix,” shares Beau Riser. “This innovative new interbody, still in the product development stage, created a buzz at NAS (North American Spine Society), an industry trade show.” Nexxt Spine is unique in its approach of taking the process from design to development of the implants, products, and through the first runs to the final finished product,and boasts greater efficiency than most manufacturers in the industry. Riser says of Nexxt Spine’s development process, “We are always working to improve our product development process. We could probably do 1/3 or 1/2 times faster than the industrial standard. Efficiency is key when working directly with doctors who require a special request. First tier technology enables altering of already formed designs, customized to the doctor’s specifications.”

High quality and robustness are essential assets

Robert Thomas says the following about Mitsubishi Materials’ contribution to Nexxt Spine. “Mitsubishi Materials develops world class products with a focus on innovation and precision. That level of quality and superb robustness are essential assets in ensuring that Nexxt Spine fulfills customer needs. Mitsubishi Materials’ products deliver unrivaled performance that sets a platinum standard above competitors. For example, when we tried to use a small-diameter coating end mill for coating an emerging exotic material called nitinol (shape-memory alloy), we had some difficulties with an off brand product, but a Mitsubishi 0.014“ (0.35mm) diameter end mill held up!”

Cooperation is essential in achieving technological innovation

We asked what breakthrough or innovation has been achieved with Mitsubishi Materials. “I’d have to go back to what I was just saying about exotic materials. We’re getting ready to machine some cobalt chrome, sourcing out the tools. Nitinol is a new material that has only come out in the last 5 years. On the other hand, cobalt chrome has been around for a while, but has been definitely tough to manage on the shop floor in terms of repeatability. It was then that Dan McCloskey, Mitsubishi Materials Senior District Manager for Central Indiana, recommended a 1.5mm diameter drill 20 times in length for drilling deep holes in the difficult-to-process material. Also, when drilling out some tiny holes in propylux, the tool walked and caused the holes to run together, which scrapped the part, but Dan gave me a new tool for it.” With regard to the two companies’ future relationship, Thomas proclaims, “I like Dan. He comes around more than most. He’s very helpful. So, the future’s wide open. I see a very bright future for Mitsubishi Materials and Nexxt Spine. We are cutting edge, growing companies, so I look forward to our cooperation in the future.” To this, Beau Riser adds, “I definitely recommend Mitsubishi Materials‘ tools. They are efficient and reliable, hence cost-effective.”


(Center) Beau Riser, Process Engineer, Nexxt Spine (Right) Hisashi Daiguji, Engineer, Mitsubishi Materials U.S.A.

PART5: Willemin-Macodel (USA)

Achieving Life Sustaining Innovation through Precision

Jim Davis, Willemin-Macodel

Manufacture of diverse medical parts

On the last leg of our tour, we visited Willemin-Macodel, a Swiss-based machine tool builder company. The company name translated means “machine of Delémont,” derived from the historical machine manufacturing town of Delémont. Known for its cutting edge machining innovation, Willemin-Macodel offers extremely high-precision products that are suitable for minute workpieces. With its expansion into the US, we spoke with Jim Davis, Applications Manager located in Noblesville, IN. “As a machine tool builder, we provide optimal machines for all sorts of medical components to the medical industry across the board. For example, we supply a broad range of industries including the dental, spine, maxillofacial, and major bone (which is hips, knees, elbows, toes) industries. We also do applications, process development and testing for customers, as well as provide turnkey solutions for setting up a process in addition to delivering a machine tool. We recently finished machining a dental solution and Mitsubishi Materials’ 0.5mm diameter Smart Miracle end mill was used for that. This latest model machine has already garnered a reputation that spans the country.” The company also supports shops across the US by providing R&D (research and development) and training. “If a customer has a part that they don’t know how to make, or if they want to make it faster and cheaper, we provide a more robust process with higher capability,” states Davis.

High quality and high precision are insurance

With an almost twenty year background in Swiss turning, Jim Davis is an expert in the field. We asked him how he sees Mitsubishi Materials’ tools. “In a word, they make our machines look good!” he says. “The materials enable the crew to cut faster with more RPM, because it can take more heat, withstand more wear, and are more resistant to defects. The benefits are endless. The tools cut cleaner, the run out is better, and the grind quality is also superior, which provides a better finish. With other end mills, we have to finish twice to gain a good finish, but that is not necessary with Mitsubishi Materials’ products. They are the best drills on the planet.” He furthermore adds, “In turning with Swiss CNCs, boring bars and thread mills are often used after drilling a hole to finish the hole or process it into a screw hole. If you use a cheap drill, it breaks, and a domino effect occurs thereafter. The drill breaks, then the boring bar breaks, after that the thread mill breaks, and if the drill gets stuck, everything breaks. This is referred to as an ‘unsetup.’ A high quality drill is important above all else. In this sense, using a high-quality drill by Mitsubishi Materials is cheap insurance. It feels good to know that it’s going to last.”


Tools sought on the shop floor

High capability in the manufacturing process always leads to better results for the patient. If an implant has a better finish, the body typically accepts it better. As a result, there is less tumbling, which means shorter surgery time and less burden on the patient. In other words, making parts faster, specifically with more reliability, leads to better success. With respect to Mitsubishi Materials’ contribution to the medical industry, Jim Davis says, “The medical industry is different from automotive and aerospace. Aerospace is a single job, where you may use a couple hundred tools to machine one part without using the same tool twice. The parts are also extremely large. Automotive is very fast and tends to require a change of tools every shift. On the other hand, medical utilizes small quantities made using the same facility. You may have 30 of this, 20 of those, and 15 of these, which means a lot of setups and change overs. In medical, effectiveness is often more important than efficiency. A tool that you know is reliable, and that works the first time without having to find a ‘sweet spot,’ leads to better results, because you can just set up and go, and save a lot of time. If you’re making 30 parts, and you save a minute off the cycle, it’s only saving 30 minutes on the whole run, but if you spend an extra day on the set up, that’s a big difference. Most shops in the US charge an average rate of $300 an hour or more, and $750 an hour for dental. Time is money! Most competitors’ tools need to be changed every 100 parts, but Mitsubishi Materials’ tools need to be changed only every 500 parts. That is a vast time difference in tool changes alone. Mitsubishi Materials’ products are exceptional with miniscule parts that are measured in microns. For perspective, a sheet of paper is about 100 microns thick. Some parts need to be measured down to 10 microns. Such exact measurements are required. Widgets, in particular, have lots of little holes and features, and every single one of them needs to be measured at all important points. Precision being essential, the grid quality of the tool and the quality of the shank makes a large difference in total quality. High-precision Mitsubishi Materials’ products work good, and effectively contribute to improving the quality of the work we do.”


Future medical instruments

“The future is seeing a rapid increase in finish machining. There will also be an increase in the 3D printing of acetabular cups, the component in hip implants replacing the natural ball- and-socket, or the acetabulum. Recently, there are highly expensive cups that are 3D printed in metals, but the problem with 3D printing is that it cannot achieve an accurate finish. The future will involve creating smooth, shiny and accurate parts using 3D printers, and medical parts will undoubtedly become even smaller and more accurate.”

Page Top