Medical device design engineers are facing significant new pressures ranging from shrinking time to market, as well as demands to keep costs as reasonable as possible.
Many engineers increasingly are turning to metal and plastic injection molding as a solution, according to a new research project conducted by Design News with the Reed Business Information (RBI) research group. Thirty-six percent of medical device design engineers say they are using injection molding more frequently than they did two years ago.
Design News recently interviewed Len Czuba, president of Czuba Enterprises of Lombard, IL, to review these issues. Czuba was a medical device design engineer at Baxter Healthcare for 20 years and is a past president of the Society of Plastics Engineers. He now focuses on medical design consulting.
Do you think market timing pressures are significantly greater today than they were five years ago for the development of new medical device designs?
Lately, everybody has been facing shorter time frames and constrained budgets. They have tighter resources and things need to be done right now. Companies seem to be taking longer to make a decision, but once they do they expect the project to be completed much faster than before. In some cases, I think the expectations are a little bit out of line.
Do you think the decreased time expectations are a reflection of first-to-market competitive issues or are there other issues at play?
I think that companies are running very lean these days. The people who are left behind are short of time. As a result, decisions are often pushed right to a critical point. People don't have the luxury of doing things when they would love to do it.
I would think one of the outcomes of this might be the need for much more collaboration up and down the supply chain. For example, the more injection molders and mold designers are involved in original product development, the less time is required during the manufacturing phase to iron out problems. Do you see evidence of that?
Yes, but some people are telling me that they don't even have time to attend these kinds of meetings. They are facing reduced budget, staff and other problems that constrain their time.
Another issue that came up in our research survey is a trend toward miniaturization. Do you see a trend toward smaller parts in medical device design?
Micro parts are really gaining traction. We are seeing parts being molded with better materials that have improved precision. They offer design engineers the opportunity to make smaller components. The trend isn't being driven by an effort to reduce materials' costs because they are virtually insignificant in the overall cost of a medical device. They are being driven by an effort to develop a whole new range of new technologies, such as surgical instruments that are minimally invasive. Evidence of that is the skyrocketing use of stents and catheters.
Are we pushing the limits of the technology today?
We are but as we push those limits, new materials are coming online, as well as new processing and mold technology. We're making advances and that's why we're seeing some of these great new minimally invasive micro devices coming on to the marketplace.
For more insight on the RBI research study and trends in medical device design, listen to our free editorial webcast, “Injection Molding Works for Medical Design.”