Home health-care treatments, the push to reduce hospital-acquired infections and the shift away from materials with potential health risks continues to create a plethora of opportunities for material companies that supply the medical industry even in the current troubled economic climate.
Insurance companies don't want to pay for the time a patient spends in a hospital from acquiring an infection [related to a surgical procedure], so hospitals are wiping down anything and everything with all sorts of cleaners, said Thomas O'Brien, industry manager for health care for Sabic Innovative Plastics US LLC in Pittsfield, Mass. So you need materials to withstand those more and more aggressive cleaners.
That trend has helped us tremendously, added Scott Hanson, global industry leader for the medical market segment of the specialty plastics business of Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, Tenn. Hospitals are using stronger and stronger disinfectants that are harsh on plastics medical housings, so many of our new blends are designed to address that.
At Medical Design & Manufacturing East, held June 9-11 in New York, Eastman and PolyOne Corp. introduced a new family of opaque performance blends based on Eastman's Tritan copolyester that will be marketed within PolyOne's Trilliant HC specialty blends portfolio.
Their primary applications will be for medical housings for hand-held medical devices and home health-care products, including diagnostic tools, blood-glucose meters, battery-powered feeding pumps and thermometers, Hanson said.
Hanson said the new blends are designed to provide a material more suited to thin-walled devices and are an extension of a line Eastman introduced in February. They provide superior resistance to chemicals used in disinfectants and cleansers, as well as great impact resistance, since hand-held devices are more susceptible to being dropped, he said.
In addition, molded products from Trilliant HC blends made with Tritan also will maintain their aesthetics and functional integrity because there is less chance of cracking or failure, according to Eastman and PolyOne.
There also has been a dramatic increase in interest in materials that can be used to replace products that contain bisphenol A and plasticizers such as phthalates, Hanson said.
To capitalize further on that, Eastman also introduced its Tritan MX731 copolyester for thin-wall applications such as intravenous components, minimally invasive surgical instruments such as cannulae and blood therapy applications such as dialyzers. They offer an alternative to companies that have fluid pack applications such as IV components and blood therapy devices, and who are concerned about bisphenol A, Hanson said.
In addition, original equipment manufacturers are looking for new materials and designs for home health-care products, said Sabic's O'Brien.
Home health-care products are still going very strong, particularly in diagnostic, respiratory and inhaler devices where patients are going to do things themselves, such as read their vital signs from home, O'Brien said. OEMs want those products to look good and to be aesthetic. So everything we do with color is an advantage.
The interest in reducing costs is also giving materials suppliers increased leverage to bring new materials to the market.
We see cost-cutting starting to drive a lot of decisions for the whole value chain, Hanson said. Hospitals and OEMs are looking for cheaper materials and to use less material. But they are also trying to avoid costs through better-performing materials that will help them avoid costs down the road.
Kevin Dunay, market segment leader for medical polycarbonates North America for Bayer MaterialScience LLC in Pittsburgh, agreed.
Companies are looking for materials that are more effective and provide an overall cost-effectiveness, said Dunay.
At MD&M East, Bayer introduced a new medical-grade radiation sterilizable polycarbonate, Makrolon Rx2435, that has an increased melt flow so it can meet the needs of thin-wall applications. We see a growing trend in the health-care market for thin-wall applications such as dialysis components, drug-delivery devices and surgical instruments such as trocars, Dunay said.
We have been doing some trials with customers and are hoping to get some commitments from customers by year end.
Bayer also introduced Bayblend M301FR, a flame retardant PC/ABS, which meets biocompatibility requirements for applications such as wearable insulin pumps and respiratory equipment, and offers more impact-resistance. That is becoming more important with surgical instruments and drug-delivery devices being more portable, said Dunay. OEMs want to improve the surgical life of the product in the home.
Bayer also debuted a new line of hydrophilic coatings for use in catheters, guidewires, leads and endoscopes that offer reduced friction with tissue, less swelling than competing coatings and greater ability to resist blood clotting, said Paul Nowatzki, associate scientist for medical coatings.
Our material has a linear swell of maybe 15 percent compared to other hydrophilic coatings that typically have a linear swell of 100 percent, making it easier to insert catherer-like devices into the body, he said.