Powering the future of surgery

Nov 24, 2020 | Medical Devices

Many people still have a classical view of surgery — skilled surgeons in scrubs manually cutting, inspecting and sewing patients back up again. However, surgery equipment has come a long way. Medical professionals are now equipped with a large array of specialised powered tools. Here Stewart Goulding, managing director at precision drive system supplier EMS Ltd, explores the different types of powered devices in hospitals.

In the UK there are over 4.3 million people waiting for an operation, with research showing that the number of surgeries required per year is continually increasing. Despite hacksaws and scalpels being reliable surgical tools, the growing number of procedures on the table means that surgeons require tools that offer high levels of control and precision time and time again.

The increase in the number of surgeries is also having a negative effect on the surgeon’s wellbeing. Longer periods of time spent in the operating theatre is leading to medical professionals, especially orthodontic surgeons, to develop painful back, neck and wrist conditions. These conditions can shorten careers and keeping surgeons healthy is a top priority.

Powered medical devices offer an avenue to reduce the strain on surgeons by giving them tools to make surgeries more precise and less strenuous on their bodies. Each different style of medical device has some benefit for surgeons, in fact, there are many different types of powered medical devices from bone saws to cast removers. For the most part, these tools are grouped either by their power source, shape or application.

Powering tools

There are three main methods of powering surgical tools; batteries, mains electricity and pneumatics. Most modern designs are moving away from pneumatics and concentrating more on electrical options. This is because battery and electrically powered designs are more compact and electrical motors can give more controlled actuation, which is vital for precise operations like surgery.

Battery designs can be incredibly versatile because they don’t need wires and are not limited in their range of motion. However, batteries do not last forever and due to the length of certain complex operations battery powered tools are not always adequate.

Shaping tools

Shape is an important factor for medical tools. There are two main shapes used for powered surgical devices — gun grip and pencil grip. The shape changes the way that the tool is held, meaning it directly influences the way that the tool is designed.

Pencil grips are more precise and are best suited for more delicate surgical tools. They are also less bulky letting the operator get closer to the patient. Gun grips, on the other hand, offer the holder a stronger grip on the tool giving greater control.

As many of these surgical tools have limited space, the shape also dictates the type of drive system that can be used in the design.

Drive systems in handheld medical devices are especially important. Due to the limited space, the drive must have a high-power density and it must provide constant steady actuation while remaining small and lightweight. At the same time, they must also be quiet and have low levels of vibration. Only if a drive system can offer all these qualities can powered surgical tools reach the desired standards of performance.

For example, the FAULHABER BHx 1645 & 1660 brushless motors series is designed specifically for use in handheld powered devices. As such, it has a long thin design with a high-power density. The motors are offered in two lengths making them ideal for either pencil or gun grips making them suitable for most types of precision tool designs and can provide high-quality actuation in many surgical applications.

Applying tools

The main two applications for powered surgical tools are sawing and drilling. Powered sawing is the more common application of the two, specifically when it comes to cutting bones. There are three main types of saw cutting motions oscillating, reciprocating and sagittal. Each of these types of saw has a specific area for which it is best suited.

Powered drilling applications have a large variety of uses from dental surgery to reconstructive surgeries. They are used to drill holes in which pins, plates and screws can be fixed or they can be used to remove decaying teeth in preparation of fillings. Accurate drilling is therefore central to successful surgeries.

Precise surgical powered tools are becoming more integral to the success of modern-day surgeries. With the number of operations being carried out, it is crucial that our medical professionals are equipped with high-quality medical devices, rather than the classical surgical implements of yesteryear.


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