Miniaturization, portability, and the need for more cost effectiveness continue to create opportunities for new materials and applications of existing materials in medical products.
``A number of trends are driving innovation,'' said Clare Frissora, health-care market director for Sabic Innovative Plastics of Pittsfield, Mass., in an interview at Medical Design & Manufacturing West in Anaheim, held Jan. 29-31.
``Health-care providers are looking to manage costs, manage safety and be more efficient,'' she said. ``They want safer, more reliable devices for patients, doctors and nurses. The trend to give patients access to health care in the home is driving portability, miniaturization and products patients can take with them.''
Drugs and medical devices are coming together in new product development as miniaturization takes hold, said Larry Johnson, marketing director for health care for PolyOne Corp. of Avon Lake, Ohio.
Kevin Dunay, market segment leader for medical and consumer segments of Bayer MaterialScience LLC, agreed.
``There are more and more demands from hospitals from a cost-reduction standpoint,'' he said. ``They want smaller devices that are more effective and less expensive, and less expensive to make. They are looking for products that allow more minimally invasive surgeries so they can get patients in and out of the hospital quicker for cost-containment. In addition, drug delivery systems are increasing because of the shift toward more in-home health care and care away from the hospital environment.''
As an example, Dunay pointed to a product that Pittsburgh-based Bayer unveiled at MD&M West - a pocket-sized, mechanically driven injection pump that allows patients to self-administer medication with a deviation rate of no more than 5 percent for the flow of the medication.
The RoweMiniPump from RoweMed AG in Melsungen, Germany, uses Bayer's Makrolon Rx 1805 polycarbonate for all of the pump's housing components, enabling its compact design. Currently available only in Europe, it is refillable and can be used to administer antibiotics, corticoids, hormones and antiepileptic drugs. It also can be used for cancer drugs, chemotherapy and pain medication, Dunay said.
Similarly, Sabic showcased a portable noninvasive ultrasound brain scanner that assesses blood flow to the brain and enables the diagnosis of traumatic brain injuries where they occur - on a battlefield, for example, or where people play sports.
The hand-held Neurovision 500P scanner from Multigon Industries of Yonkers, N.Y., is housed in Sabic's LNP Faradex CS 1003 FR HI, a polycarbonate material infused with stainless-steel fibers that enabled Multigon to significantly reduce its manufacturing costs.
``The product was previously made with a material that needed a copper overlay,'' Frissora said. ``That was very, very expensive and very manual labor-intensive. Companies want to eliminate secondary operations.''
She said Multigon was able to achieve ``a 60 percent reduction in overall manufacturing costs,'' as well as more consistent and more uniform electromagnetic/radio-frequency interference shielding. ``Our lightweight housing allows the technology to get out where it needs to be at an effective cost,'' Frissora said.
Sabic also showcased thin-wall, lightweight exterior cover panels from the BrightSpeed series of smaller computed tomography scanners from GE Healthcare that can reduce cost and equipment space for hospitals through the use of Sabic's thermoformed Cycoloy PC/ABS sheet.
``It provides the ability to make the machine smaller and much more compact so the equipment takes up less space,'' Frissora said. In addition, because color is molded into the housing, there is no surface treatment or the secondary operations previously needed using a thermoset material.
``It is a less costly way to make the housing for the scanner. It helps hospitals deal with internal cost management and their entire set of needs,'' including creating a product that is less threatening to a patient because of its smaller size.
Bayer's Dunay sees similar trends shaping products that Bayer has helped develop. ``The need for cost-effective mobile therapy systems and much more stringent safety and toughness requirements from our customers are leading to smaller parts and more thin-wall design.''
One example is the Gen 3 Pulse Injection needleless injector from Avant Medical Corp. in San Diego, awaiting approval for use from the Food and Drug Administration, which Bayer displayed at MD&M West. It can deliver up to 30 doses of medication from a single reservoir and is delivered from a nozzle molded from Bayer's Makrolon Ex2530 polycarbonate.
Likewise, a hemodialysis blood pump from Renal Systems Inc. in Warrendale, Pa., made with Sabic's Lexan HPM resin reduced the potential for clot formations that adhere to the pump walls and permitted a design that involves only one needle, instead of separate needles. One takes out the blood, and the other brings it back in.
``There is more safety and, with fewer needles, it reduces the potential risk issues with biohazards,'' Frissora said. ``It also reduces the chance of clotting, pressure building up and the needle popping. This is another megatrend we are seeing - materials that allow a design that improves safety.''
Custom molders also are looking for less-expensive ways to manufacture materials currently being used for medical products.
For example, Plastics Engineering & Development Inc. in Carlsbad, Calif., is developing parts for the orthopedic spinal market that use an expensive, advanced implantable biomaterial polyetheretherketone (roughly $1,500 per pound).
Implantable PEEK currently is used in a lot of spinal products, but PEDI has adapted its equipment so that it can be injection molded at a much lower cost than traditional machining.
``With injection molding, you can better control shapes,'' said Richard Manson, sales and marketing manager for PEDI. ``It is a very expensive material that runs at very high temperatures. But the cost savings potential is quite significant.''