All parts of the health-care industry — device makers, doctors, hospitals and patients — can benefit from metal-to-plastic part conversion.
“It's really predominately cost drivers, but there's a bunch of side benefits to the other players in the food chain, so to speak,” said Jay Haverstraw, technical sales manager at PMC LLC, a Cincinnati-based injection molder, in a June 12 presentation at the Plastics in Medical Devices 2012 conference in Westlake.
Haverstraw cited two case studies where medical OEMs switched from metal to plastics and saved money, plus enjoyed other benefits.
In one example, an orthopedic targeting guide, the OEM was able to switch from a $300 titanium part to a $20 injection molded device.
“The payback was pretty quick,” he said.
In the other case, the maker of an orthopedic cannulated guide was able to switch from a $400 titanium part that had chronic quality issues to a $15 plastic part.
Just those cost savings made the conversion worthwhile, especially in today's health-care environment, Haverstraw said. Cost pressures from insurance companies and the government are making price a critical issue for OEMs.
“Obviously it makes driving every bit of cost out of your product critically important at this point,” he said. “At the end of the day, it's improving the bottom line.”
But plastics have other big advantages in the medical-device sector. For example, OEMs benefit from being able to mold insignias or colors into products.
Hospitals gain by being able to use disposable devices that are easier and cheaper to manage than metal devices.
Using disposable devices also helps to cut down on the spread of infection — a critical issue for hospitals.
“One of the biggest issues facing the surgical center sites is control of infectious disease. Post-operative infections are a major problem, obviously a significant liability and a hazard to the patient,” he said.
“Taking the burden away from [hospitals] of having to manage re-sterilization of devices is a huge benefit,” he said.
Doctors benefit by being able to use lightweight devices that reduce fatigue and are easier to control, especially using soft-touch polymers.
Patients gain because plastic devices can be biocompatible, less toxic and with no metal particulate issues.
“A lot of you know, because it's been very well-publicized, some of the issues obviously with metal-on-metal devices, specifically with hip implants. With plastics that's a non-issue,” he said.
Plastics can be versatile too — for example, a plastic part can be made from a polymer that can be reabsorbed by the body.
“There are just endless possibilities and patient benefits,” he said.