ACT Medical Inc. counterspins liquid crystal polymers to extrude tubing, known as ACTube, for certain medical applications, and now plans to make catheter tubing able to withstand the application of torque.
``Our theory is that this kind of molecular braiding with a counter-rotating die will give you body, flexibility and torqueability with one step,'' said Bill Partridge, head of sales and marketing for the Newton, Mass., firm. ``Many catheters go through an expensive three-step extrusion'' with inner and outer plastic layers and a metal-braid in between.
To make the tubing, ACT will need an extruder that runs at different speeds than its current machine. The firm has identified the proper equipment and hopes to have it operational by fall.
In May 1995, the Waltham, Mass.-based Superex Polymers Inc. division of Foster-Miller Inc. licensed ACT as the exclusive user of the patented tubing technology for medical applications. Superex uses it for in-house processing of industrial products, such as automotive tubing.
The Superex LCP process overcomes the tendency of rod-shaped molecules to align and split or crush easily in finished tubes. Partridge said ACTube has high dielectric strength, gas and liquid resistance and high melt temperature and generally is made with Hoechst Celanese Corp.'s Vectra liquid crystal polymers. ACT produced its first commercial components of the trademarked ACTube in early 1996.
ACT can vary tubing stiffness by adding a 30 percent filler of glass, mineral or a Teflon-based material and altering the speed of the rotating dies.
``ACTube can replace stainless steel with electrically insulated or nonconductive coating and also ceramics for minimally invasive surgical instruments,'' he said. ``People are asking us to make flexible versions as a sheath for laser or microwave procedures.''
ACT displayed the technology at the Medical Device & Manufacturing West show in Anaheim.
Meanwhile, back in Massachusetts, ACT Medical relocated this month to a refurbished, 50,000-square-foot Newton factory from overcrowded, 25,000-square-foot quarters in Waltham.
Founded in 1990, ACT employs 110 and recorded 1996 sales of more than $10 million, up from $7 million the previous year.