In the current medical-device market, designers have to learn to work with sustainability, as well as give options to potential customers.
Veteran designers Bill Evans and Scott Clear tackled these topics at Plastics in Medical Devices 2011, held April 11-13 in Huron.
Evans, principal and founder of Bridge Design Inc. in San Francisco, described the current sustainability trends as being all about cradle-to-grave impact. No product has zero impact, he said.
But at the same time, Evans who has 25 years of product-design experience warned that sustainability isn't about making everything reusable or using corn plastic to make everything.
Designers, then, have to work with sustainability while finding a middle ground, spurred on by medical patients who have more concern about the impact of products and by health-care professionals who, according to Evans, are frustrated by daily waste.
Evans added that pressure for change is building at major health-care users and providers such as health-care giant Kaiser Permanente, who Evans said is developing a green scorecard similar to the sustainability scorecard used by Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Sustainability hasn't been a significant thing in the medical-device industry, so there's a great opportunity there, he said.
But sustainability has to be supported from the top in your organization, Evans added.
It shouldn't be about emotions, he explained. You're not going to start making bamboo surgical tools. You need a life-cycle assessment tool that tracks ecological damage and resource depletion.
Changing to a more sustainable plastic material or even using less plastic resin to make medical devices can accomplish much of a sustainability goal. Reducing and rethinking product packaging also helps, Evans said.
If you alter the way a product is disposed of, you can achieve 15-20 percent [sustainability] improvement pretty easily, he added. And a lot of times you can make a change where the disposable/reusable split happens.
Clear vice president of product development for Design Academy Inc. in San Diego got an up-close look at medical-device design during an 11-day hospital stay in 2009.
If you put a product designer in a hospital, all we do is pick everything apart, he said.
His firm has designed plastic medical devices that can handle increased exposure to chemicals and radiation, working with materials makers PolyOne Corp. and Eastman Chemical Co., injection molding/design firm Thogus Products Cos. and injection molder Phillips Plastics Corp.
Recently, Clear has helped design a prototype for a medical wireless device. Design challenges for the project include its need to be autoclaved as well as to have good chemical resistance. The device also had to be able to survive a rugged throw test, be made with conventional electronics parts and have a two-year life span.
Clear and his team dealt with the challenge by making two versions of the same device a higher-end version using a polysulfone housing and a silicone underlayer and a less expensive version of the same device with a copolyester housing and an underlayer made from ethyl vinyl acetate copolymer.
There aren't many wireless medical devices to find, Clear said. But we can go from a $2 [per-pound] plastic to a $30 plastic, Clear said.
The Plastics in Medical Devices conference was hosted by Plastics News Global Group.