What Medical OEMs Should Know about Ultra Miniature Fabrication

Posted on Thursday, April 09, 2015

Knowing how to more effectively source small parts at high yields is a key success factor for medical OEMs looking to pack highly innovative designs into very small products.


We are receiving a lot more inquiries these days from medical OEMs. These companies are busy turning a growing backlog of scientific innovations into marketable products that will advance healthcare and grow businesses. And because companies see the opportunity to deliver much more value with fabricated parts, they need parts that are much denser and more complex. So every day they challenge us to test the limits of what is possible and make it routine.


Today what might be considered routine, for example, would be an 80% yield of a circuit consisting of four metal layers with a five-micron separation between the circuit lines. Less routine, but still doable, is a multilayer five-inch long 2.5-micron circuit.


It Takes a Partner


Another challenge is the project timeline. That is the timeline from the initial customer inquiry to delivery of the prototype and then to delivery of the volume-manufactured part. Because innovation is occurring more rapidly, windows of market opportunity are closing faster. The shorter the timeline, the less chance the part will already be near end-of-life by the time it is fully designed, prototyped, and manufactured.


So medical OEMs have an incentive to do all they can to speed things up and avoid time-wasting reworks. That means selecting a proven fabrication partner, but also becoming more informed on other ways to make success happen faster. Here are three critical points medical OEMs should know:


Communication is key. No one knows your product better than you. That’s why we recommend a face-to-face meeting at project kickoff, rather than just sending us a list of specifications the component must meet. Not knowing what you don’t know is always an issue at the start of a new project — so a face-to-face meeting is key to knowing the right questions to ask. One of the questions we like to ask, for example, that may not occur to a customer is how the part will be handled after it leaves us, such as during shipping, final integration, or in the application. Based on that information we might change the order in which we fabricate various features or how we fabricate those features, perhaps to increase structural rigidity (such as by using thicker traces) or to increase the area of a bonding surface.

Design the process, not just the part. A key aspect new customers sometimes overlook is that creating an ultra-miniature part is as much about designing the process recipe as it is about designing the part itself. That means that design, prototyping, and volume manufacture are all strongly interdependent. So having a single provider do all of them increases the quality and speed in doing each of them. One of the ways that happens is by a continuous feedback loop — i.e., issues that show up during manufacture getting fed back to the designer to improve yield.


Leverage your R&D effort fully. One of the corollaries of design-fabrication interdependence is that improving process design also improves product design — so the product exceeds the original hoped-for specifications in terms of size, circuit density, environmental tolerance, reliability, and other factors — improvements that might not have been considered had the fabrication partner not been involved in the R&D phase.


If current trends continue, the medical OEM market is only going to become even more challenging for everyone, and also potentially a lot more rewarding. Accelerated innovation has sharpened the dividing line between big success and big failure. Orchestrating how to move these innovations efficiently through the value chain from research breakthrough — to product design — to volume production — and ultimately to revenue — has become a critical skill for medical OEMs.


Learn more about miniaturization in medical device design in our recent blog post.