Most of the new materials on display at the MD&M West show in Anaheim, Calif. last week were developed to fight disease, especially the infections that hospital staff and patients are getting in large numbers. Many of the new plastics have been developed with antimicrobial properties.
Nearly all of them also deal with the harsher chemicals used today for disinfecting surfaces. In the fight against hospital-acquired infections, these harsher chemicals can damage plastics and other surfaces of medical equipment housings or enclosures not made to withstand them, Bruce Fine, Bayer MaterialScience's market segment leader for medical and consumer products, told Design News. The result can be unappealing surface changes, and worse, stress failures.
Plastics suppliers are also getting more requests for their materials to survive various sterilization environments. This year, many of the materials I saw on the show floor can withstand multiple sterilization processes, including those that depend on high-temperature steam, chemicals, gamma irradiation, or chemical methods.
DuPont Performance Polymers is getting more inquiries for information about materials content, due to more awareness of regulatory information, Diana Salvadori, North America healthcare manager, told us. There's also more concern among molders and OEMs about change management in all stages of the supply chain. Changes in raw materials content, additives, or manufacturing processes at the raw materials supplier can mean further testing will be needed downstream, she said.
Click on the image below to see some of the innovative materials introduced on the show floor.
The successful placing of catheter-based medical devices such as angioplasty, stent placements, and thrombectomy need variable stiffness combined with as much flexibility as possible. Those are two opposing needs, but Solvay has achieved this with its Radel polyphenylsulfone (PPSU). The material is being used by RiverTech Medical in one layer of that company's precision micro-tubing with variable flexibility for catheter-based medical devices. This microtubing, shown here, offers two to three different stiffnesses and flexibilities in a single component, Maria Gallahue-Worl, global business manager for healthcare in Solvay's specialty polymers division, told Design News.
RiverTech Medical made the micro-tubing with multiple layers of different polymers, plus a layer of woven wire material for reinforcing tubing walls. Radel PPSU provides strength and stiffness as the top layer, which is 0.002 inch (0.00508 cm) thick. The polymer's strength and melt processability are comparable to those of competitive materials like polyimide, and it can endure more than 1,000 cycles of steam sterilization without a significant loss of properties.
@ Elizabeth M, it has been a serious cause of concern now for quite some time. We always listen to talks about people, other than patients, catching infections of various kinds in the hospital environment which makes it more and more scary to work in the hospitals or attend the patients there. It is good to see that we are heading toward better solutions.
Liz, that's really interesting about the home-birth "movement". It sounds like a second wave after the first one in the late 60s and 70s. I think it may be part of a larger avoid-hospitals trend, but I wonder if there are any other factors involved. In the first wave, it also had to do with a search for more natural and traditional methods, and for better mental/psychological health of mom and baby.
AnandY, I completely agree with you. last year the materials being touted by many of these same manufacturers could withstand one of those sterilization processes. Now it's all three, or even more in some cases. All I can say to that is "Wow!"
Thanks, Nadine. It is heartening to see how quickly the big plastics manufacturers can and do respond to market needs that benefit the ultimate end-consumers of their products, especially in medical materials.
Yes, I am with you, Ann. I don't even like to visit people in the hospital. It seems like there is a big backlash happening globally against hospitals and traditional medical care in general, or maybe it's just because I live in kind of a progressive- and alternative-minded case. For example, I know a lot of pregnant women at the moment and many of them are opting for home-birth situations because they, like you, want to avoid hospitals like the plague. They fell that there is more room for something unfortunate to happen in a hospital rather than out. Giving birth is of course a different scenario than needing to go to the hospital for a serious problem/illness, but still, there is something to be said for managing some medical situations outside of a hospital these days.
TJ, many plastics are inherently anti-microbial. Others can be made so by their manufacturers. Most, if not all, of these are one way or the other. That's a different set of characteristics from those needed to withstand various sterilization environments. Whether any of these are inherently anti-microbial or made so by design might be answered in the material's data sheet, or by the manufacturer.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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