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.
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.
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.
How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk by Proto Labs' Rich Baker at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis.
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.
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