Everything is prepared. The operating instruments are sterilized and at the ready, the patient is under anesthesia and on the operating table. Above the patient, two arms stretch out to perform the surgery. Yet the arms aren’t human: they are two metal robotic gripper arms that will operate on the patient. They are being controlled by doctors with a precision measured in millimeters. This or something like it takes place daily in specialized hospitals all around the world.
So that the surgery robot can see what it’s doing during the operation, the patient is X-rayed numerous times throughout the procedure. “And that’s exactly where we come in, with our composite materials,” says Jürgen Klinger from SGL Carbon. Products made of carbon fiber composites are very permeable to X-rays and very lightweight as well.
The high transparency to X-rays means you only need a very low dose of radiation, which is good for patients. Additionally, the composites cast barely any shadows on the X-ray images, which is important because shadows can sometimes lead to misdiagnoses.
Juergen Klinger, Technical Sales Manager, Business Unit Composites - Fibers & Materials at SGL Carbon
Along with operating tables, SGL Carbon in Meitingen, Germany, also manufactures accessories that can be attached to X-ray devices, including head holders and what are known as clip-on boards that extend the length of operating tables. The company’s expertise along the entire value chain is impressive, and this experience pays off for SGL Carbon customers.
“Our clients often have very exact ideas and detailed requirements for their components,” Klinger says. He and his colleagues work through the challenges with the customers in SGL Carbon’s in-house Lightweight and Application Center (LAC). “In the past, we mainly just advised our customers in materials selection,” Klinger explains. “Today, in contrast, we offer everything from engineering to the right material combination to manufacturing, all from a single source.”
This was the case for the cooperation with Getinge, a medical technology manufacturer headquartered in Baden-Württemberg, on its Maquet series of operating tables. Klinger recalls, “We worked closely together from the very start to find the optimal design for the component.” It was a collaboration that paid off for both partners, not to mention patients as well.
Intraoperative X-rays can improve results for patients and also allow for more complex interventions. Our operating table with a carbon fiber table top that offers nearly unimpeded radiation transparency for cardiovascular, orthopedic and traumatological procedures.
Bernhard Kulik, Senior-Product Manager for Operating Table Systems at Getinge
In addition to providing X-ray-transparent products for operating theaters, carbon fiber-reinforced composites are also ideal for prosthetic and orthosis devices due to their extreme stability and very light weight. While these types of components have long been custom-made, particularly in small manufactories, 3D printing is opening up new business opportunities for larger industrial companies such as SGL Carbon.
In our research center in Meitingen, colleagues from the Composites Division and Central Innovation are already working on an in-house startup in precisely this area.
Aside from prosthetic devices and X-ray applications, stretchers are also more commonly being made of carbon fiber composite materials these days. The material properties of these composites really pay off here as well. “The amount of time saved thanks to the reduced weight can save lives,” Klinger says.