Medical Balloon Laser Processing

Medical balloons are critical medical devices that require the highest manufacturing precision and quality. Balloon catheters, for example, enable a wide variety of life-saving diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, including stent delivery, dilating vessels, and clearing blockages.

Demand for medical balloons continues to rise, especially as medical-device manufacturers and surgeons develop a wider range of minimally invasive procedures with smaller components, to improve both the surgeon and patient experience.

With the latest laser technologies, tools, and materials, medical balloons can be manufactured with microscale features, from a large variety of materials, for increasingly innovative neurovascular, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, urological, and catheterization procedures. The market for catheter-based intervention devices continues to expand. For example, with the increase in cardiovascular disease around the world, balloon angioplasty has become a preferred method for treating these conditions.

Other medical balloon applications include positioning within the body, placement of support structures, dilation, drug delivery, occlusion, and pressure monitoring.

As medical balloons and catheter devices continue to get smaller and more complex, they must still maintain the highest quality and be easy to use. Lasers play an increasingly critical role in achieving these goals.

Lasers quickly remove material with micron-level precision with submicron tolerances, with no physical contact with the materials. This allows lasers to create complex features that are difficult or impossible to do with standard machining methods. The absence of heat-affected zones (HAZ) makes laser processing ideal for sensitive balloon materials. Lasers also provide sterile shaping processes that can be used to customize component geometries to match various functions of the catheter.

Any medical balloon project requires in-depth discussions regarding materials, processes, and performance expectations. Theories and designs can be tested quickly, often turning around innovative prototypes within a few weeks.

Material testing is absolutely vital to success—multiple material types are thoroughly tested, as are the best hole arrays and laser parameters. Laser requirements may call for the use of a femtosecond laser, which cuts high-precision features as small as 10 microns or less with submicron tolerances and no heat damage.

Lasers are used in several ways to manufacture medical balloons:

Laser Ablation

Lasers can be programmed to ablate or “vaporize” material at the micron level to shape or texture medical balloon surfaces. For example, the surfaces of drug-eluting balloons can be shaped with lasers to create flow channels for drugs or to provide pathways for electrodes. Texturing can improve the performance of the coating on the balloon or the underlying surface. Lasers are also used to correct variable wall thickness or remove material to improve performance parameters, such as flexibility.

The surface friction of a balloon can also impact its performance—for example, keeping a stent in place during navigation prior to placement. One way to achieve the ideal amount of friction is by increasing the size of the balloon—another is to use lasers to increase the friction of the surface area by creating micron-scale textures on the surface of the balloon.

Laser Drilling

Micron-scale holes can be laser-drilled in a variety of patterns with the highest precision, without burrs or residual material that can plug holes. This is especially critical for angioplasty balloons, infusion catheters, and drug-delivery catheters, which rely on high densities of tiny laser-drilled holes to administer drugs—depending on hole size and density, medicines can be delivered at a remarkably steady rate.

Challenges can arise when holes are required on the sloped or conical surfaces of balloons. When this occurs, more multi-axis positioning controls and inline optical inspections are required during production to assure quality and repeatability. These methods are often developed in-house and are especially valuable for customizing unique balloon shapes and sizes.

Quality Control Is Critical to Success

Medical balloon failure can severely impact a surgical procedure or harm the patient. Therefore, the products we process must meet all pertinent performance standards and manufacturing specifications.

Laser Light engineers continuously monitor and adjust our compliance, improvement, and validation processes to maintain a highly effective quality management system, keeping tight tolerances in the sub-micron range. We use the latest tools to ensure the highest quality, including video coordinate-measurement machines, which are ideal for automated measurement of parts with a wide range of GD&T requirements. Sophisticated vision systems perform automated in-line visual inspections to increase the efficiency of production.

For your next project, just call your Laser Light representative or contact our Client Success Team to discuss how our laser micromachining services can solve your medical balloon design and production challenges.