This post looks at the megatrend of Aging Society and its potential impacts on our precision machining businesses. It is based on a presentation I attended at HORN Technology Days.

Our future is determined more by societal demands than it is by our workforce and current capability.

External Fixation, Artificial Joints, Human Spare Parts...
External Fixation, Artificial Joints, Human Spare Parts…

Why Aging Society is my choice for most impactful megatrend for our industry

  • Annual worldwide growth trend of 5% increase in Medical Technology Developments is  2X -3X current GDP growth. (Economically compelling)
  • Who is against improving the quality of life of the people we love? (Emotionally compelling)
  • Growth in the sector of Endoprosthetics- Human Spare Parts. (Aging and active population makes this compelling)

Because of this megatrend, our industry can expect to see growing opportunities in the production of

  • Surgical tools and instruments
  • Human spare parts and hardware (Bone screws, implants (including dental), joints, and hardware)
  • More challenging materials to process – ceramics, titanium, magnesium, and composites.

What will the keys be to growing in participation in this field in the future?

  • Flexibility and speed of processes and capacity
  • Systems built on assuring quality
  • Taking advantage of  cost effective technologies to build in process assurance, and cost effective minimum waste provision of parts. 

Over the long run, our businesses seldom grow faster than GDP. Knowing that the impacts of our aging society will grow faster than GDP provides a roadmap for savvy managements to plot their course to use their companies to serve this growing market.

You can see the aging of society every day – at work, shopping, and even in our schools (universities).

What are you doing to meet the demands that this megatrend is creating for your precision machining business?

Horn is working on developing tooling technologies and processes to improve your capability and performance, improve cost effectiveness and innovate your production.

New technologies call for - new tooling technologies. Thread Whirling Head for Bone Screws.
New technologies call for – new tooling technologies. Thread Whirling Head for Bone Screws by HORN.

What are you doing to take advantage of this  growing 2X-3X  faster than GDP opportunity?

HornUSA- Tools for Medical Technology

As machinists, we seldom encounter microalloy steels. but what do we need to know?

  1. Microalloy steel is manufactured like any other, but the chemical ingredients added at the initial  melt of the steel  to make it a microalloy include elements like Vanadium, Columbium (sorry, Niobium for us IUPAC  purists), Titanium, and higher amounts of Manganese and perhaps Molybdenum or Nickel.
  2. Vanadium, Columbium Niobium, and Titanium are also grain refiners and aggressive Oxygen scavengers, so these steels tend to also have a very fine austenitic grain size.
  3. In forgings, microalloy steels are able to develop higher mechanical properties (yield strengths greater than say 60,000 psi) and  higher toughness as forged by just cooling in air or with a  light mist water spray.
  4. Normal alloy steels  require a full austenitize, quench and temper heat treatment to develop properties greater than as rolled or cold worked.

Since microalloyed steels are able to get higher properties  using forging process heat- rather than an additional heating quenching tempering cycle- they can be less expensive to process to get improved mechanical properties.
 The developed microstructure ultimately makes the difference. The  microstructure developed in the steel depends on the grade and type.

Tempered martensite for normal alloys.

  • Normal alloy steels require a transformation to martensite  that is then tempered in order to achieve higher properties.
Bainite comparable hardness improved toughness.
  • Microalloy steel precipitates out various nitirides or carbides and may result in either a very fine ferrite- pearlite microstructure or may transform to bainite.

For machinists, if the steel is already at  its hardest condition, the microalloyed microstructure of either ferrite pearlite or bainite  is less abrasive than that of a fully quench and tempered alloy steel.
P.S. The non- martensitic structures also have higher toughness.
We don’t tend to machine prehardened steels in the precision machining industry, but if you ever are part of a team developing a process path for machining forgings, or finish cuts after induction hardening, these facts might be good to know.
Georges Basement Bainite 1000X

The medical industry will continue to develop new products, require new capabilities from their suppliers, and maintain their drive for continuous improvement in technology, costs, and quality.
Production of precision parts for medical applications is constantly changing. More challenging materials, geometries, and ways to assure  conformance / performance are what’s ahead in this market.
What  are the keys to meeting these challenges if this is your market?
Key #1- Technology
Technology is certainly a key part of a sustainable commercial strategy. With tolerances, finishes, and geometries standard that were unheard of in other markets years ago, modern equipment is a must- capable, productive, precisely controlled equipment.
Key #2- Zero Defects not just Zero PPM.
Zero PPM tells us about your process.  Or Processes. Zero Defects is a condition of your products. In the surgery, they don’t  have the ability to analyze your ppm. They need defect free. Zero Defects. And that means anticipating and preventing latent defects… so close communication with design is a must, as well as process control and understanding.
Key #3- Knowledge and Training
Knowledge and Training not just for operators.  Engineering, Programming, Toolmakers, Quality Assurance  as well as Operators all need upgraded skills to successfully manufacture  complex geometries from  materials such as Titanium and Stainless  Steels  such as 316L. Simple form tooling is no longer adequate for the complex forms now being generated by whirling or interpolation of milling cutters. This requires higher skills and process knowledge.
Which of these is most important?
If any of these is missing, it would be a showstopper for your medical market business. They are all important. But if one had to be ranked most important, I would say that it would be knowledge and training. With a knowledgeable and well trained crew, you could find the technology and reinvent the mistake proof processes needed to succeed in the business.
Without knowledge and skills, all you would really have is a technology showroom or museum.
What do you think? Is knowledge and training first among equals? Or is it silly to rank any of these as more important?