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Beyond Surfaces #8 - Medical Technology

Biocompatible: what links scalpels, dental crowns and hip joints. The test quest: Tim Horn on testing and quality control in AM. Montia Nestler and Nancy Shepard: passion for challenges.

Beyond Surfaces #8 - Medical Technology

The world is home to around 7.75 billion people — and the number is constantly increasing. At the same time, the world’s population is aging. This is pushing healthcare systems worldwide to their limits: costs are exploding, and too few doctors and nursing staff must care for too many people. Innovations are being used to address this trend. The goal is to treat patients more sustainably and efficiently.

Oerlikon covers solutions along the entire process chain in the highly regulated and complex medical technology market. At the same time, our individual health is also a very personal issue. With the new issue of our magazine BEYOND SURFACES, which is dedicated to medical technology, we consider both these aspects.

Coatings and additive manufacturing (AM) are becoming increasingly important in medical technology. Both Andy Christensen, AM pioneer in the medical sector, and our internal medical technology expert Canet Akcigoz are convinced of this. Lucas van der Merwe, CEO of Bächler Feintech, explains the role quality awareness plays in the coating of dental implants, while Nancy Shepard, Director of Business Development at Oerlikon AM Medical, explains in a very personal way how she became a patient herself.

Flip through the magazine

How quality, transparency and trust provide the basis for Bächler Feintech’s long-term customer relations

An abutment is the connection between a dental implant – the artificial tooth root – and the visible part of the prosthesis, called the crown. For Bächler Feintech, however, it is much more: an “overall trust package for patients.” This is why the traditional Swiss company works together with Oerlikon Balzers.

Lucas van der Merwe, CEO of Bächler Feintech, demonstrates on a model enlarged by a factor of five how the crown with the abutment is simply “clicked” into place on the implant. “Nothing wobbles here, there is no need for adhesive cream, the patient has no restrictions, and of course nothing is visible. Do you still remember that television commercial from the 80s: ‘So that your bite will remain strong in the future?’ I guarantee you’ll be able to bite a lot harder with this. And you can do it at least two million times.”

Behind this promise and the confidence with which it is expressed are a great deal of high technology, experience and passion – and an unconditional demand for quality. In fact, that word comes up often in this conversation. Before Lucas van der Merwe joined the precision mechanics company with its rich tradition, he managed projects for large corporations and, fascinated by the subject of quality management (QM), engaged in further training to become a leading QM auditor.

“We are a Center of Excellence and strategic supplier for our largest customers, most of whom are in the medical and dental industries. This means that we need to pay attention to extremely good process quality and documentation. Quality, transparency and trust form the basis for long-term customer relationships like this. And I am proud that these things also characterize our relationship with our employees,” he says.

We have some very promising projects in the pipeline. We will definitely implement these with our partner Oerlikon Balzers as well.

Lucas van der Merwe, CEO, Bächler Feintech

Standard-issue products? No thanks!

The bar is thus set high for the partners and suppliers of Bächler Feintech: “In recent years we have systematically checked all our suppliers. We work exclusively with those who can meet both regulatory standards and our own quality process requirements. Sometimes that meant that we had to find new partners. And in a few cases, we even decided to bring processes directly into our own company. It’s the only way to make sure standards are met.”

Oerlikon Balzers has frequently been engaged by Bächler Feintech for the application of coatings in the past, but mostly in smaller series. “When we started developing products for the dental sector, we were looking for a coating that could meet our expectations – not a standard-issue product. I have to admit, we bet on the wrong horse first. Then we approached Oerlikon Balzers, not least because we were very impressed with their level of commitment.” The new cooperation bore fruit and the response from Bächler Feintech’s customers was enthusiastic. Van der Merwe notes: “We have planned the next product line with Oerlikon Balzers coatings right from the start!”

Bächler Feintech

  • Founded in 1964
  • 150 employees
  • Quality certificates ISO 9001 and ISO 13485
  • Location: Hölstein, Switzerland
  • Part of the Klingel Medical Metal Group, Pforzheim (Germany)

Delicate handling

The turning of the titanium abutments, which are only a few millimeters in size, is precision mechanics “par excellence.” Only a few specially trained employees at Bächler are proficient in this. The tolerances are extremely tight, as are the inspection intervals: Inspections are made every few pieces. With the help of a special treatment, the surface of the abutments is then made even smoother so that the BALIMED A coating adheres even better. “Unevenness would lead to increased abrasion so that we could no longer provide a lifetime guarantee,” explains van der Merwe. And the handling, as well, is anything but easy: The extremely fine threads must be protected from every form of mechanical stress. This is why the parts are prepared for coating immediately after being cleaned.

On arrival at Oerlikon Balzers, a handling machine takes over the loading (or after the coating process, the unloading as well): “Our risk analysis has shown that the usual manual handling otherwise employed could damage the threads. The machine ensures process reliability and stability because it nearly always grasps the part at the same location with the same force. And last but not least, it works without fatiguing,” explains Florian Schmitt, Business Development Manager Medical Europe. The fixture used was also developed in cooperation with the specialists from Bächler Feintech to ensure optimal coating of the abutments. Defined cleaning cycles and ongoing tests guarantee consistently high quality throughout the entire coating process.

S3p technology for market entry in the USA and Japan

The two partners faced a particular challenge when Bächler’s customer planned to enter the US and Japanese markets, where the requirements were somewhat different. After special load testing, the team selected BALIQ TINOS, a coating based on Oerlikon Balzers’ S3p technology. It combines the advantages of the electric-arc and sputtering technologies and provides a revolutionary smooth and hard surface.

“We have a very positive outlook concerning the development of the medical and dental sector in the coming years and expect strong growth for Bächler Feintech. We have some very promising projects in the pipeline. We will definitely implement these with our partner Oerlikon Balzers as well – and not just because the quality is right, but so are the trust and transparency,” says Lucas van der Merwe, looking to the future.

New BALIMED portfolio of coatings for medical applications

The quality requirements for medical instruments are increasing every year, and enhancing surfaces by applying highly wear-resistant antimicrobial coatings has become an integral part of modern medical technology. In addition to these ultra-high quality standards, instruments used in the medical industry must also meet stringent biocompatibility regulations.

The seven innovative new BALIMED coatings from Oerlikon Balzers, each of which has been developed for specific medical applications, meet the demanding requirements of today’s medical instruments and components industry. These low-friction and wear-resistant ThinFilm coatings offer higher cost efficiency and contribute to improved patient outcomes thanks to their biocompatible, antimicrobial and chemically inert properties.


Petra Ammann

Petra Ammann

Head of Communications Oerlikon Balzers

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