Metalworking and medicine have been working hand-in-hand for better than two millennia. This is not something that will come to an end anytime soon, but new materials have arrived on the scene, joining and sometimes supplanting metals.
At first ancient peoples used instruments made of bone and horn to conduct medical procedures, but once metals entered the picture things begin to change rapidly—and for the better—for the patients and their caretakers.
Compared to bone, metal can be more easily and precisely shaped, making the use of instruments more efficient and effective. Metal can also be shaped more quickly and those shapes can be standardized.
Some of the uses to which these ancient instruments were put would not be unfamiliar to physicians today. The Incas, for instance, were performing neurosurgery in the 15th century, conducting a procedure called trepanning to remove sections of the skull in order to treat head injuries.
Even earlier, the Greeks and Romans had developed a wide range of medical instruments in copper, bronze, brass, iron, steel and silver. In fact, some of the most interesting artifacts uncovered in the ruins of Pompeii are medical instruments discovered in what 19th century archeologists who excavated the city called the House of the Surgeon. Buried for centuries under volcanic rock and ash deposited on Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, this collection of instruments is quite similar to what doctors use now. The trove includes scalpels, hooks, and forceps.
While such instruments are still made and used today, modern manufacturing tools and techniques have allowed the medical profession to innovate and evolve far beyond these relatively simple implements.
It did take medicine a while to catch up once the first Industrial Revolution occurred. Even as late as the 1870s a medical school education was barely superior to taking a good high school chemistry class today.
Now medicine has surged ahead, but it has done so in part with the help of manufacturing. And, thanks to technologies such as metrology, Swiss-type turning, and additive manufacturing, that advancement should continue.