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Making the Impossible Possible in Medical Device Manufacture

The Odyssey-4 laser wire stripper was developed in recognition of the trend towards miniaturization in the medical device market. It can cleanly and precisely strip polyimide-type insulation from single and multiple medical wires or ribbons in the range of 0.025 – 0.25 mm (10-100 micron) OD without damaging the underlying conductor/s.

The Odyssey-4 laser stripping system was developed by Laser Wire Solutions in recognition of the growing trend towards miniaturization in medical device manufacture. Some very small medical devices contain wires so thin they are invisible to the naked eye. For example, in catheter devices, the probe inserted into the body and the control system operated by the surgeon are connected by very thin wires. These wires have a micron-thin coating of tough enamel insulation to prevent them shorting out with one another. This coating must be stripped from the ends of the wire, without damaging it, to allow an electrical connection to be made.

Laser wire stripping was created by NASA in the 1970s and 80s as part of their Space Shuttle program. The wire insulations used on the Space Shuttle were thinner and lighter than ever before, so new technology was developed because the risk of damage was too great when using traditional mechanical wire stripping tools.

The basic technology was commercialized in the 1990s and 2000s, initially for aerospace applications, and grew with the increasing prevalence of consumer electronics, such as laptops and mobile phones. However, standard laser wire strippers are unsuitable for stripping ultra-fine wires (in the 0.01 mm to 0.1 mm – 10 to 100 micron diameter range) used in medical devices, and particularly as miniaturization becomes more common. As a result, many medical device manufacturers are still using conventional techniques, such as manually scraping or grinding the insulation from wires, which can be unreliable and inaccurate. Poorly stripped wires result in failures when the devices are tested, leading to considerable time and money wasted.

Some manufacturers are choosing to develop their own laser tools for specific applications, which is time-consuming and expensive for them. In other situations, where the wiring systems are so small and highly complex and where the manufacturing volumes are relatively low, medical devices are assembled by hand with the aid of a microscope rather than in an automated process. To have a compact, affordable machine is a key enabler to implement the technology in manufacturing lines, where multiple operators need their own system during the manufacturing process.

Odyssey-4 laser wire stripper with Cognex high vision camera system

With the introduction of compact, reliable, maintenance-free, solid-state UV laser technology, Laser Wire Solutions identified an opportunity to develop an off-the-shelf, compact and cost-effective solution that could be quickly implemented at low risk to the device manufacturer.

The machines that Laser Wire Solutions now create remove any polyimide-type insulation cleanly and precisely, whilst harmlessly reflecting from the shield or conductor, giving a perfect, nick-free strip every time without the need for further chemical treatment. Built-in vision cameras with artificial intelligence verify the quality of every single strip.

The core of Laser Wire Solutions’ wire strippers is a fundamental understanding of the laser physics involved. The company selects laser sources that emit short pulses of light which effectively vaporize all insulation material whilst harmlessly reflecting from the underlying metallic conductor, thus leaving it intact. The optical system of the machines removes insulation 360 degrees from around the wire and has unparalleled accuracy.

Laser Wire Solutions' medical device laser strippers are unique in that they allow medical device manufacturers to develop new, advanced products and simultaneously address their needs in terms of:

  1. compact size – Odyssey-4 is a desk-mounted unit which has a 250 x 800 mm (9.8” x 31.5”) footprint
  2. price – starting at below $100,000
  3. speed - stripping a wire end in around 1 second
  4. precision - stripping from 0.2mm down to 0.02mm diameter
  5. consistency - repeatable and predictable stripping
  6. quality control - in-built camera required for validation in the manufacture of life-critical medical devices
  7. automation – with an optional in-line wire-feed system
  8. ongoing cost savings - minimal maintenance and wear.

Laser Wire Solutions’ Odyssey machines are now used by large medical device manufacturers across the USA, including their Mexican subsidiaries, with demand growing across Europe.

This year the company received royal recognition for its Odyssey system with a British Queen's Award for Innovation. The company is also ranked 52nd by the Financial Times 1000 fastest growing businesses in Europe with much of the growth attributed to the Odyssey laser wire stripper.

Laser Wire Solutions is widely recognized for its passion to innovate and deliver cutting-edge solutions to its customers’ wire processing problems. The company is currently working on the design and build of a robotic, automated system for precision soldering of microscopic wires.

This is a particularly interesting application for the development of next generation medical devices, especially ultra-sound cables, where existing technology has reached the limit of what an operator can physically assemble and is therefore causing bottlenecks in production. Laser Wire Solutions’ new system aims to automate this intensive, laborious task and offer far greater precision in electrical connection to ensure less scrap and a safe end-product.

Odyssey-4 inline stripping system