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.
I was surprised at how much more these materials, especially the plastics, are doing this year compared to last year's show. Last year most of the new lines were antimicrobial and could withstand one sterilization process. This year, they're antimicrobial and can withstand multiple sterilization processes, plus harsher cleaning chemicals.
Interesting slideshow, Ann. I think it's interesting to note the evolution of these type of products, as you do here. I knew about antimicrobial medical materials but didn't know about the rest. It's an important area as well, given that these superbugs that develop in hospitals are the cause of death for a lot more people than one would think.
The whole hospital-acquired infection (HAI) thing has a lot of people in hospitals running scared. As you can see, it's even an "official" acronym now, at least among suppliers to hospital managers. I also learned, as a side note, that not only patients but also staff are catching some of these super-bugs. What I find interesting is how long we've been hearing about this problem. I think it's at least a decade now.
Great in-depth look at the show's materials, Ann. Yes, materaisl are doing more this year. I was amazed to see how many materials are now being displayed that are sufficiently compatible for implanation in the human body.
Thanks, Chuck. As you can see, most of them are plastics. So it was interesting to talk to Morgan Advanced Ceramics, which does ceramics and metals. I agree, though, there seemed to be a lot more materials that are being designed for either implants (29 days and more attachment or insertion) or short-term attachment (<29 days).
I know what you mean, Ann. I am lucky enough so far not to have ever been in a hospital overnight but for years if anyone in my family has ever been, their loved ones worry that they would get sicker rather than better. I actually have a bit of a fear of being in a hospital for this reason. It's good that after all this time something is finally being done to combat these superbugs.
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.
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.
Ann your this effort is keeping us posted with the new stuff available. In this field it helps me discuss with the doctors for patients and staffs health as one of my subsidiary makes hospital supplies. Thank you and salute you.
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.
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.
@ Ann R. Thryft, ubiquity of plastics has been more and more self-evident. Such wide use of plastics in medical industry is another example of the versatility of this one material. What is more interesting is that one kind of material can now withstand multiple sterilization processes which is simply remarkable and points toward the usefulness of such materials.
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!"
@ 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.
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
A fun and informative tour you can attend at the upcoming Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis, MD&M Minneapolis, and other events there, is the Materials Innovation Tour on Wednesday afternoon. I'll be leading it.
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