Ulbrich Stainless Steels & Special Metals: Bringing 'Precision' to Medical Equipment
Ryan McFarland, Medical Product Manager
Gone are the days when doctors and nurses used heavy diagnostic tools with a messy bunch of wires hanging at one end. Technological advancements led to miniaturized, portable diagnostic devices that can fit into pockets and can be transported to different places with ease. These compact devices require a host of small, robust and lightweight components to power them. The growing demand for these components led Ulbrich Stainless Steels & Special Metals to step in with its innovative prototyping and reliable construction of a wide range of medical equipment and devices. As the medical industry continues to create smaller instruments for minimally invasive procedures, Ulbrich focuses on the creation of compact, high-precision wires. “Our high standards go above and beyond industry requirements, which help us ensure that our creations are in the front line of the fight for better health,” says Ryan McFarland, Medical Product Manager of Ulbrich Stainless Steels & Special Metals.
The South Carolina facility of Ulbrich entered the medical wire market early in the 21st century. Among its wide spectrum of products, its braid and coil reinforcement wire and catheters deserve special mention. The company caters to both OEMs and startups and stocks approximately 30 varieties of braid or coil reinforcement wire items that can be used by the latter in creating new instruments. Ulbrich offers a wide variety of wire materials, of which bare or silver-plated copper-mandrel wires are among the company’s fastest growing product lines. Keeping pace with the market demands and trends, the company added tungsten to its stock program when it became a popular choice for reinforcements, especially for radiopacity.
The medical device market has also benefited from the precision-wound bobbins manufactured by the company. McFarland explains, “A catheter tubing needs to be reinforced using a braiding machine so that the wire does not get tangled and remains unbroken.”
Our high standards go above and beyond industry requirements, which helps us ensure that our creations are in the front line of the fight for better health
On recognizing the importance of precision winding for its clientele, Ulbrich developed on-site equipment to help maintain the performance of their products and equipment.
Ulbrich improved the efficiency of its coil and braid reinforcement catheters and braided stents in the implantable material by using the highly elastic nitinol wire. So, when one of the medical device companies dealing in the nitinol product line faced a minor setback due to the wire they were using, they approached Ulbrich for an alternative. The company discussed several tweaks of material to improve results—mechanical properties like torque and column strength, as well as different tolerances—and came up with a wire that suited their instrument best.
The fourth generation family-owned organization, which has been in the market for nearly a century, had its humble roots in dealing with scrap metal. A rolling mill used to meet size-specific customer requirements was the first piece of equipment bought by the company. Ulbrich had been catering to increasingly complex customers, when one day, one of them sought narrow wire that could not be slit, and the company took up the challenge. This led to the establishment of the facility for shaped wire in Connecticut. Ulbrich prepared for its entry into the medical device industry based on its experience in the nuclear sector. By learning from different product lines and gathering ideas and materials, the company grew through mergers and acquisitions to build base and capabilities, until it became a global provider.
Ulbrich’s global support structure now guarantees streamlined solutions for all its customers, irrespective of their size. The company is focused on developing its internal processes and expanding its offering to grow larger in size while creating smaller instruments. Ulbrich’s South Carolina facility that caters specifically to the medical device market will continue to focus on new products like clad or bi-metal solutions and other alloys.
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