Five-axis, intelligent controls support medical manufacturing


Although 80% of M5’s work during the pandemic was devoted to the medical industry, the company’s experience in micromachining spans multiple industries.. These five micro-machined parts are made of various materials such as PEEK, rubber, and cobalt chrome. Photos courtesy of M5.

Beginning of 2020, a small boutique in Minnesota M5 expanded its micromachining capabilities by purchasing a five-axis Kern Micro Vario machine tool to expand its micromachining capabilities. Soon after, he bought another one.

These purchases have pushed M5’s accuracy and tolerance limits and made M5 a critical supplier for many critical medical equipment companies. Now, the four-person workshop creates everything from microfluidic molds for vaccines and components for brain surgery tools to micro-molds of prototype pacemaker parts. “Two of the best investment decisions we’ve ever made,” says owner Jon Baklund.

Micro-machining tools

The pacemaker parts required eight .005 “holes and the sterility requirements meant the parts could not be touched by human hands. Baklund stressed the importance of mechanical automation and machine precision to meet this challenge. to these requirements.

“Not only does this translate into cost savings,” says Baklund. “It also gives us the ability to perform many more critical processes and achieve finer surface finishes, which brings cost efficiency. “

Achieving this precision was particularly difficult as thermal expansion can cause machining issues at these micro-levels – but the Kern machine tool bypassed these issues due to a setup that pumps cold water throughout the structure. to make it more temperature stable than its external environment. “This often translates into huge cost savings for manufacturers, who no longer need to acquire giant AC units and more to stabilize their chambers,” said Kern President Toni Mangold.

Alex Madsen, lead tool maker and designer of M5, notes other process improvements: “I regularly use 0.003″ diameter end mills on hardened steels with these machines, which often results in rough finishes. mirror-like surface. In addition, the fifth axis contributes to the tool life. Being able to machine five sides of a workpiece at a time eliminates the need to fix a second clamping.

Photo of a person holding a microfluidic mold in front of one of the Kern machines.  The Kern logo is visible on the machine.

This microfluidic mold for vaccine production has nearly 30 channels 0.010 “wide. M5 staff had to machine the entire bottom of the mold with a single 0.008” diameter end mill in order to have a surface area. almost perfect plane with no individual steps or facets.

Dynamic and accessible controls

Although he had no previous experience with five-axis machining or the Heidenhain 640 TNC control of the Micro Vario, Madsen was completing the work within a week and a half from the time M5 received its first Micro Vario.

“The first thing I noticed about the Heidenhain command is that it uses more verbal language for tool changes and things like that,” says Madsen. “Even though I manually type in a G code, the programming screen provides a description of what it is and what I need to look for. The tool table is nice and the probing cycles are also easy to follow.

A photo of the two Kern Micro Vario machines from M5, with their Heidenhain TNC 640 controls next to them

Even with the Heidenhain TNC 640 remote desktop manager allowing the store to schedule overnight home jobs, M5 quickly reached the capacity limits of its first Micro Vario. Just four months after purchasing the first machine, it added a second Kern machine with an identical Heidenhain control.

The controls also feature a remote desktop manager, allowing M5 employees to work remotely and configure tasks at night. Between this ability and Madsen’s tendency to work on five or six different types of parts every day on two machines running simultaneously, the workshop requires precise simulation work. With features like optional Dynamic Collision Monitoring, which helps prevent spindle crashes, Madsen says the control is up to the task: “I’m basically doing a full render of my part on the control, and there’s had times when he showed half a thousandth step. off that was in the G code. So on those really tiny parts where I need super fine surface finishes, I can prove it on the control and trust what I see.

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