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Plastics: Empower Medical Device Industry Growth

Plastics remain at the forefront of Medical Innovations. In the early 1970s, manufacturers were using materials like glass, rubber, and metal to assemble syringes, surgical instruments, and other devices. With the advances in technology, the need for engineering plastics became indispensable for use in intricate, high-performance device designs. Novel creations in polymer chemistry are expanding the variety of applications.

Over the past three decades, the medical devices market has undergone a number of changes in the types of devices produced, substrates selected, and sterilization procedures employed. In the early 1970s, manufacturers were using materials like glass, rubber, and metal to assemble syringes, surgical instruments, and other devices. Products made from such materials were typically machined, moulded, or assembled with fasteners.

With the advances in technology, the need for engineering plastics became indispensable for use in intricate, high performance device designs. Around the same time, a pronounced shift to single-use devices forced design engineers to evaluate such polymers as acrylic, polycarbonate, PVC and others.

In the initial stages progression was slow. Whereas in 1950, the total volume of plastics produced and used worldwide amounted to just 1.5 million tonnes, the global figure for synthetic materials has soared to today’s 280 million tonnes. About one fifth is accounted for by Europe, the second largest plastics producer in the world behind China.

Plastics - A Material of Choice for Medical Innovations

Plastics stand for superior design flexibility compared to other materials. Their properties can be tailored to meet a wide spectrum of physical, mechanical, chemical as well as biocompatibility requirements. Many applications are using plastics to replace either metal or glass to reduce costs, leverage design flexibility, and still maintain the performance. Polymer additives and fillers can be used to render plastics flexible or rigid, insulating or conductive, chemically resistant and sterilization resistant.

Advances in high performance polymers and the associated merits of plastics over other materials have expanded the opportunities of plastics in the medical industry, not only in devices but also in packaging. Price pressures in the healthcare industry are also driving the development of high-quality, low cost alternative polymers.

Novel creations in polymer chemistry, e.g. improved silicone elastomers, thermoplastics with antimicrobial finishes, and the opportunities offered by nanotechnology are expanding the variety of applications, and more. They also help to enhance the properties of products, such as Processibility or resistance to fungal and bacterial attack.

Plastics remain at the forefront of medical innovations. We rely on plastics in every aspect of our lives. The plastics used in healthcare and medicine support us from birth through maturity and eventual old age. Many medical devices incorporate polymers, either as key components or as coatings to improve the biocompatibility of other materials. Ultimately, plastics remain the forefront of medical innovations. The dynamic and relentless pace of Medical Device Industry development has been matched by the development of specialist plastics.

Emerging Trends In Medical Plastics

Polymer materials are very diverse and can be adapted for the intended use i.e. Infusion tube, suitable for light sensitive drugs, polymers which are degraded within the body (bone screws), polymers which releases drugs, etc. The inertness of polymers makes them more suitable for critical applications like implants and pharmaceutical packaging. The mega trend behind the increasing use of polymers is the use of disposables, which gives a better protection against cross contamination and saves money for the sterilisation and validation of these processes.

Medical plastic compounds are used in a wide variety of segments within the market, such as devices, equipment housings and tray and fabrics. A substantial amount of Polymeric Materials are used in Medical Device Industry which is globally estimated to grow at approx. 5 – 10 % on average. It is therefore estimated that Plastics Materials / Compounds used in Devices will also grow within this range.

While the need for Innovation resulting from Regulatory, Market and Cost Pressures demand that Medical Device Manufacturers need developments in the Medical Polymers.

There is a trend towards devices with unique attributes from materials of composition. Combination products, with drugs blended into polymers, for local drug delivery or controlled release is one of the most exciting trends.

Another area involves nano-reinforcements used to enhance the physical properties of plastics at the molecular level. This is important for vascular catheters that are getting smaller with thinner walls, but must be stiff enough to be pushed through vascular pathways. Standard fiber reinforcements are simply too large to be used in these extremely thin walls.

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