YORK, PA. — It's no secret that the medical device market is exploding right along with the rest of the global health-care industry. It's up to a $56 billion-a-year industry in the United States, more than $140 billion world-wide, and aging populations and government initiatives mean the spending will only go up.
But with its regulations to navigate and constantly evolving customer demands, medical molding can be a difficult or even intimidating market to break into.
At technical symposia held on both coasts this spring, Engel North America offered lectures, technology presentation and equipment demonstrations with industry partners, discussing some of the challenges of medical molding and how to get by — or break new ground in the business — with a little help from your friends.
Medical technology industry veteran Harry Hamme, formerly of Becton, Dickinson and Co. (BD), said with U.S. legislation like the U.S. Affordable Care Act and the Chinese government's pledge to get health care to 100 percent of its population by 2020, he expects the global market for plastic in health care to reach $34.9 billion by 2016 and for total U.S. medical plastic processing to exceed 4.4 billion pounds by 2015, more than half in thermoplastics.
"The most significant growth in the next five years will be in thermoplastic engineering resins and thermosets," Hamme said. For success in such a growing, competitive market, firms will have to differentiate their brands and product lines, starting at the beginning—with materials.
Combination products using polymers blended with the medications themselves for drug delivery or resins with compounded antimicrobial properties are the kind of creative solutions and innovations that will get materials suppliers a seat a the table, Hamme said.
Keeping costs down with waste management and sustainability plans also makes for an attractive partner, he said.
Being willing to invest upfront in the right technology and working with Engel to develop self-contained work cells cut down on waste and overall manufacturing costs, said John Gravelle, CEO of Sterling Manufacturing Co. Inc..
Embracing technology and “extreme automation” to keep costs down at the Lancaster, Mass.-based company has taken the company's from one to seven Engel injection molding machines with secondary automation, in a Class 100,000 clean room in just 18 months, expanding into PEEK dental implants and polylactic acid implantables and reabsorbable technologies.
“It's all high-tech and everything [from Engel] is able to be integrated into a customizable package,” Gravelle said. “It's far more cost effective than working with six vendors to bring auxiliary equipment together.”
Jeff Hershey, Engel's marketing manager for the medical business unit, said the growing medical device market demands “modern and unique” solutions, not just from the devices themselves, but from their manufacturers as well.
“Clean-room floor space is very expensive,” Hershey said. “Engel can support customers in and outside the clean room.”
Having partners who understand the medical business and are willing to work together for tailor-made solutions is key, Hershey said, partnering to build robust systems for long-term, high performance throughput that can remain flexible as regulations and customer demands change.
For example, Engel's e-motion machines feature a fully enclosed lubrication system that used to be only for clean-room-bound equipment but is now becoming standard, as are and exhaust systems developed for the cleanest possible purge process 45 degrees cooler in the clean room to boot.
As part of the symposia, Engel had an automated e-motion 440/220T cell on hand, making 0.3 mm diameter needle holders for insulin pens in a 96-cavity mold.
Demonstrations also included e-victory 310H/80W/50V 160 combi three-component injection molding machine with ecodrive and a clean-room design, originally debuted at the 2013 K show, was set up to churn out tri-component drip chambers for blood transfusions, with polypropylene and a polystyrene component injection molded in a single step and an overmolded polypropylene integrated filter with mold production partner Hack Formenbau of Kirchheim in Germany.
And an all-electric Engel 70/55 LSR US e-mac injection molding machine, equipped for molding liquid silicone rubber, featured a 4-cavity, valve-gated cold runner mold supplied by partner Roembke Manufacturing and Design, based in Ossian, Ind. and an Engel e-mac 310/105 in high execution ran a compact, side-gated 64 cavity runnerless pipette tip mold supplied by St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Cavaform International.