Trend Talks: Anna Claire Conrad

As the baby boomer generation continues to grow, so does the need for high-quality medical equipment, a demand in which gear manufacturers play a key role.

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According to a release by the U.S. Census Bureau published earlier this summer and to the new estimates released at that same time, there are currently 75.4 million baby boomers, or people born after World War II, in the United States.

Additionally, the nation’s 65-and-older population has grown from 44.7 million in 2013 to 46.2 million in 2014 and now contains the oldest four years of the baby-boom generation born between 1946 and 1964.

Given these estimations, it’s no surprise that medical devices and their suppliers — including gear manufacturers — are in high demand today.

The chronic needs of the medical industry require high-quality gear motors with superior innovation, design, and quality. That’s where Precipart comes into play.

Founded in 1950, Precipart designs and manufactures gears, gearboxes, and electromechanical assemblies for medical devices used in orthopedic, robotic, minimally invasive, and cardiac surgeries, as well as drug delivery systems and diagnostic equipment.

According to John P. Walter, president and CEO of Precipart’s Gears and Motion Control business unit, the company works alongside major medical OEMs on the design, optimization, manufacture, and testing of powered surgical instruments used in the control of soft tissue and large and small bone resection.

Precipart’s products are found in powered surgical tools, such as suturing and stapling systems, rotary drills and reamers, as well as reciprocating, oscillating, and micro cranial saws. Precipart also manufactures precision gearboxes for interactive robotic arm systems used in partial knee and hip surgeries and in minimally invasive surgeries.

“All of our gears and electro-mechanical assemblies are highly customized to withstand challenging environments and demanding performance specs,” Walter said. “One application that comes to mind is a trans-esophageal probe that a doctor guides down a patient’s throat in order to get live unobstructed Doppler imaging of the heart. Our gearbox controls the position and precise movement of the probe used to direct the placement of devices, such as artificial valves, during heart surgeries. The output from the probe allows doctors to make quicker and more accurate decisions about their patients’ medical care.”

With 65 years of accumulated experience, expertise and performance manufacturing precision parts, Precipart’s role in the medical industry has become that of a trusted advisor.

“The OEMs are leaning on us more for our design expertise and treating us as an extension of their product development teams,” Walter said.

As one of the industry’s advisers, Walter said he and his team at Precipart have witnessed the medical field trending away from disposable powered surgical instruments and moving toward smarter, more intuitive autoclavable solutions.

“The increased functionality reduces burden on the surgeon and improves patient outcomes while the autoclavability supports initiatives to go green in the OR,” Walter said. “Typically, disposable medical devices utilize inexpensive molded plastic gears designed for one-time use. With this shift to autoclavable devices, custom gearboxes are being designed with precision-machined gears designed for higher output and consistent performance over hundreds of surgeries.

“Due to the harsh environment created by autoclaving and detergents used between surgeries, gear designers need to consider materials, coatings, leak paths, sealing, and lubrication when designing new surgical devices.”

 Walter also said he has witnessed the demand for quick-turn prototypes so much so that last year the company built out a dedicated prototype and development department equipped with CNC turning, CNC milling, and EDM capabilities.   

“Due to unprecedented growth, particularly for the medical market, we have expanded our manufacturing campus in Farmingdale, New York, by adding a fourth building,” Walter said. “We’ve added 20 more CNC machines for various operations, including milling, turning, and gear cutting. We’ve also added CMM, optical vision systems, and an expanded state-of-the-art assembly department, including a 10k cleanroom.”

Another company that is following the trend of a growing demand for high-quality products in the medical industry is Bison Gear and Engineering Corporation.

Founded in 1960, Bison was acquired by the father-and-son team of Norman and Ronald Bullock in 1987. Since that transition, the company has opened to the global market, its product line has expanded, and a research and development center has opened. It has also made a name for itself as a leading supplier of medical products that are designed and built to exceed federal and industry guidelines for equipment such as wheelchairs, mobility scooters, and medical and dental chairs as well as laboratory equipment such as medical equipment conveyors, mixers, sterilization equipment, and surgical pumps.

According to Martin Swarbrick, the president and CEO of Bison Gear and Engineering, his company has recognized one big trend in the medical field and gear manufacturing.

“The medical industry will continue to grow and become more of an important market for us,” Swarbrick said. “The baby boomers are reaching a point where they are transitioning into an increased dependence on medical care and support. That means there is a huge number of people who are looking for possible solutions in mobility to make their daily life generally easier. Bison is providing these solutions for automated medical beds, motorized wheelchairs, and lift units by providing reliable and low-maintenance gearmotors.”

According to Swarbrick, the majority of what Bison does pertains to custom designs or modifications of standard products.

“Our engineering and sales teams work closely with system designers and engineers to provide solutions that ensure customer satisfaction from the equipment designer to the end user,” Swarbrick said. “For instance, our 100 or 200 Series DC Parallel Shaft Gearmotors fit in well within this space due to their torque, horsepower, and speed ranges. Additionally, our new PowerSTAR hypoid right-angle gearmotors are being specified into vertical lifts that help users complete everyday tasks, such as getting in or out of an automobile.”

While the medical industry adapts to support an aging demographic, gear manufacturers will continue innovating solutions to meet the demand for high-quality precision parts.