Tubing manufacturers, facing challenges and opportunities, are adding services and capabilities to meet the changing needs of their customers and to increase the value they can offer.
“A big part of the future in medical will be bio-absorbable materials,” said Bob Jennings, vice president of sales and marketing for Zeus Inc., which makes high-performance polymer tubing and is a leader in fluoropolymer tubing for medical and other markets.
“It is the natural evolution that the medical market wants materials which disappear when the job for which the tubing was made is done,” said Jennings of the company's push into bio-absorbable materials. “So we are positioning ourselves there.”
The Orangeburg, S.C., company, whose largest market is medical, wants to offer all the secondary processes needed to make optimal tubing products.
“Customers want you to flare the tube and drill holes in it, or make one with a flange and put a tip in so it eliminates the need for them to outsource that staff or perform the work in-house,” said Jennings in a June interview at Medical Design & Manufacturing East in New York. “Over the last couple of years, we've invested in equipment and automation to offer more services and value to our customers.”
Other makers of tubing, materials or equipment also are adding new capabilities.
* Davis-Standard LLC, for example, has added a lab line at its headquarters facility in Pawcatuck, Conn., that has been engineered to support new applications in medical tubing tech- nology, including higher rates for commodity products and catheters with tighter tolerances.
“There is a lot of growth potential in the medical tubing industry,” said Wendell Whipple, vice president of pipe, profile and tubing systems for Davis-Standard. “We wanted to provide a means of demonstrating these capabilities while enabling our customers to run trials” on materials such as flexible PVC, polyetheretherketone, polyether block amides, fluoropolymers and others medical-grade resins.
* Teknor Apex Co. said it demonstrated in early June that it can make PVC-free Medalist MD-585 medical elastomer tubing at speeds up to 830 feet per minute on a 2-inch, 50-millimeter, high-speed extruder from American Kuhne's Ultra series.
The demonstration confirms that tubing compounds from the MD-500 series are fully practical alternatives to PVC, according to Nick Sandland, senior medical marketing manager for the thermoplastic elastomer division of Pawtucket, R.I.-based Teknor Apex.
* Putnam Plastics Corp., part of PolyMedex Discovery Group, has opened a new climate-controlled printing center with four dedicated pad printers in its primary manufacturing facility in Dayville, Conn. The center's line will perform printing operations on medical tubing for minimally invasive catheter shafts.
“Medical-device companies are increasingly looking for vendors who are able to provide multiple services, thereby reducing the number of vendors and the supply chain,” Dan Lazas, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Putnam, Conn.-based PolyMedex, said in an interview.
Lazas added that minimally invasive devices for catheters — the company's core business — “have gotten smaller over time, putting more demands on materials” and making it necessary for companies to develop new materials.
“To grow, you have to solve fundamental problems for customers with materials that allow them to do new things,” said Lazas. “We want to be a technical leader in creating new medical applications.”
Zeus also has upped its tubing capabilities as it continues its now 3-year-old push into bio-absorbable and advanced materials for medical markets.
It now has 10,000 square feet of Class 7 medical manufacturing space inside its Orangeburg plant, including a 5,000-square-foot, Class 7 area it added earlier this year to process advanced materials such as Aeos extruded polytetrafluoroethylene and electrospun polymers. That plant also has a 5,000-square-foot, certified biomaterials area for the analysis, testing and extrusion of bio-absorbable polymers.
Zeus also is in the midst of a 40,000-square-foot expansion of its plant in Letterkenny, Ireland, that opened in 2005.
“The last two to three years have been a struggle with the economy because elective surgery is a good portion of the business,” Jennings said. “Hopefully, this will help, and things will strengthen in the market.”
Moving forward, some of the biggest issues in the market will be in regulations and pricing.
“There is definitely an extra amount of regulatory pressure in this market for validation and qualification of products,” Jennings said. “And there is pressure on pharmaceutical firms and medical-device companies to lower prices.”
Zeus' medical products include catheter liners, heat-shrink fusing sleeves and electrocautery devices, tubing for implantable devices, multilumen catheter tubing, and flared tubing for stent transfer sleeves.