Peter Jacobs, Senior Director of Marketing at CNC Masters, explains to MPN why medical device manufacturers should give up metals in favor of new plastics.
Disposable materials must be used in the manufacture of medical devices to prevent infections from occurring. In addition, they must offer exceptional versatility while being economical. If so, plastics can make great substitutes for metals.
Plastics are disposable, malleable, durable, inexpensive, and can outperform devices made of steel, ceramic, or glass. Here are some advantages of using this inexpensive and durable material in medical devices.
1. Flexible design language
Plastics are made from various resins. Although each plastic resin has unique properties, all fabric plastic polymers offer much greater flexibility compared to metals.
Medical device manufacturing involves complex designs, intricate geometries, and textures that make plastics a more practical choice.
Manufacturers typically use computer numerical control (CNC) machining to create medical devices with intricate structures and aesthetically pleasing designs. With most shopkeepers working on a small or medium scale, mini milling machines are considered ideal for achieving versatility in a minimal footprint.
Latest techniques such as plastic injection molding make it easier to develop shapes and parts with complex geometries while offering exceptional efficiency that can rival metals. Plastics are not only easy to shape, they also offer metal-like resistance and strength.
2. Convenient sterilization
Medical plastic surgical instruments are ideal for single use because disposing of them prevents the spread of deadly infections. However, modern technologies have helped develop special antimicrobial plastics that are used in medical devices. Such special antimicrobial surfaces are effective in defending against and killing off toxins, despite the lack of regular sterilization.
3. Improved ergonomics
Plastic is lighter than metal, so manufacturing medical instruments from plastic reduces their weight to a minimum. This reduced weight increases the comfort of devices and tools for the doctor and minimizes fatigue during operations.
Plastic is also highly customizable and offers significantly greater design capability compared to metals. The material is available in different colors, surfaces and textures, which increases the ease of use.
Technological advances in plastic composites have helped develop thermoplastic products that perform similarly to metals in areas such as strength / weight / stiffness.
Medical plastic is shatterproof and impermeable, which makes it an excellent solution for safely moving biohazardous materials and curbing the spread of deadly pathogens. Medical plastic is also used to make tamper-evident caps to prevent misplay in a patient’s medical prescriptions.
Plastics are reusable, which gives them a clear advantage over metals. Used plastics can be melted and reused multiple times, making them an economical choice for industrial owners. Conversely, metal parts must be disposed of after they have been destroyed and replaced with new ones.
Plastics can also be recycled and used to manufacture new components. This benefit also helps reduce the time it takes to source new materials for manufacture.
6. Economically efficient
Plastic resins are relatively cheap compared to metals, mainly because the production costs of plastic parts are much cheaper than metal parts.
Regardless of the number of parts required during a production cycle, plastics are more economical and offer the same benefits in the medical field.
In addition, due to their low weight and insensitivity to chemical attack and corrosion, plastics are more economical to store and ship than metals. Modern plastics offer significant durability, which reduces the risk of damage during shipping and further prevents unnecessary costs.
7. Aesthetic attraction
Injection molding adheres to the prevailing aesthetic standards. These standards dictate that manufactured medical devices be aesthetically pleasing to replace the institutional appearance.
The spraying process colors plastics directly and helps to create a natural transparency. This process facilitates identification through color coding and increases the attractiveness of the products.
Plastic injection molding creates end products that offer unmistakable functionality in the medical field. The advantages of using injection molded medical devices are their compatibility, availability, aesthetic value and reduced costs.
8. Longer life
Although metals have a long lifespan, chemicals and weathering tend to wither them, shortening their lifespan. In contrast, plastics are very resistant to physical, chemical, weather and environmental influences and therefore offer greater resistance and a longer service life.
9. Better compatibility
Injection molded plastic devices are more compatible with imaging and X-ray devices than metals. Due to the deeper penetration of the X-rays, they enable more precise observation of bones. Imaging results from plastic devices are more accurate than metals because they do not affect the magnetism of MRI machines.
10. Environmental benefits
Compared to metals, single-use plastic instruments are the preferred sustainable option. Companies have found that the carbon footprint of single-use instruments is minimal and can help achieve net zero compared to the average annual CO2 equivalent emissions of a hospital using conventional metal instruments.
For example, injection molding, part of the mass production process used to make plastic, leaves minimal scrap materials compared to metal production. This process also requires a lower heating temperature than a metal that uses less energy.
Plastics have recently gained in importance due to their extraordinary properties such as lightness, durability, thermal conductivity and economy.
With the advent of new polymers, plastics are rapidly replacing their metallic counterparts in many industries, including medicine.