TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS IN MEDICAL DEVICES CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR PLASTICS INDUSTRY

The medical plastics market is facing an array of disruptive trends, like device miniaturization, point-of-care (POC) diagnostics, multi-purpose packaging, and globalization. Successfully building high-quality products in this current market requires an increased level of collaboration among original equipment manufacturers (OEM), design engineers, material suppliers, mold makers, and manufacturing professionals.

The sixth and final episode of this year’s M. Holland and Plastics News Fireside Chat series focused on these trends, along with other market and technological advancements. Josh Blackmore, global healthcare manager at M. Holland, and Benjamin Bouchard, vice president of international business development and managing director – China for GW Plastics, Inc., provided insights into the current medical plastics arena and both agreed that the time for companies to seize opportunities in this evolving market is now.

DISRUPTIVE TREND #1: MINIATURIZATION

Free from the limitations of legacy technology and empowered with sophisticated 3D printing and mold-making capabilities, engineers can now design intricate, high-functioning parts and products that require less material and have a smaller physical footprint.

This practice, referred to as miniaturization, poses a unique challenge for OEMs, design engineers, material suppliers, mold makers, and manufacturers, all of whom must work together to find creative ways to do more with less. Invested parties must align on product complexity, functionality, and material selection to accommodate new device and packaging functions, such as wireless communication abilities and electrical conductivity pathways in medical devices, packaging with built-in device anchoring capabilities, and conforming cooling channels that reduce the temperature profile and stress on a part.

DISRUPTIVE TREND #2: POINT-OF-CARE DIAGNOSTICS

With POC testing moving diagnostics into doctors’ offices and patients’ homes, there’s an increasing need for accurate and immediate diagnoses from machines that are portable, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing. “Now in POC, the product requirements often call for a smaller footprint. A doctor’s office has limited real estate, and the aesthetics become more important because you want a device where the doctor can showcase the technology they have in-house,” Benjamin Bouchard said. “The aesthetics of the test itself and the clarity of the purpose of the different sub-devices need to be clearer so that consistency remains, regardless of frequency.”

Advancements in POC testing are challenging these equipment OEMs to source new materials and manufacturing techniques that result in smaller, visually-appealing machines that have historically only existed in non-patient-facing hospital labs.

DISRUPTIVE TREND #3: PACKAGING

In medical packaging, a one-size fits all approach is obsolete. “In some cases, [packaging is] a plastic bag with a seal and label. Sometimes it’s in consumer packaging with instructions for use, or in a form-fit seal tray if it’s a surgical device…Other times it’s a Tyvek®-like seal that is then sent out for secondary sterilization,” Bouchard explained when describing the variety of packaging GW creates for customers. Because an individual package can serve multiple purposes like helping medical professionals with quality assurance, tracing a device back to the manufacturer, or keeping contents sterile, materials must be tailored to individual products and uses.

Custom blow forming, a new technological advancement used to create thinner medicine bottle walls, requires superior raw materials and plastics to improve performance on moisture vapor transmission rates and strengthen twist caps. Meanwhile, UDIs and barcodes crucial for device identification and tracking need to be constructed using materials that can be laser-engraved, can pass biocompatibility testing, and are easily identifiable regardless of their location on the product or its packaging.

DISRUPTIVE TREND #4: GLOBALIZATION

Regardless of a company’s desire to expand globally, today’s economy indicates that all businesses should operate under the assumption that at some point their products may be used in a broader, global capacity. All companies should consider standardization and supply chain security accordingly when planning strategically both in the short- and long-term.

Josh Blackmore explained that some OEMs experience unexpected international demand for devices, and other OEMs intentionally take their products overseas. “The combined complexities of devices and the multiple geographies where you want to manufacture, sell or distribute, creates a need for regional medical technical champions who can collaborate with salespeople and decide how, where, and with what material to make [the device],” Blackmore said.

Blackmore went on to explain how M. Holland addresses supply chain security and its importance for standardization to overcome cross-border compliance issues. “We’re putting together a matrix where we work with [clients] and listen to what [they] want in the physical properties – fit, form, function – and add what matrix OEMs and processors are demanding. They want to know how to minimize the risk of change in raw materials. Because they are already working hard on [global] standardization to validate processes in their factories,” Blackmore continued.

The trends and developments discussed in this year’s final Plastics News Fireside Chat only scratch the surface of many opportunities in the medical plastics arena. Operating within any medical market is a tremendous responsibility. Patients and healthcare providers are entrusting medical plastics professionals to rise to the challenge of innovating and collaborating to build successful, high-quality devices and products. Companies that work together now to create products that meet these new demands stand to reap the benefits existing within medical device miniaturization, POC diagnostics, multi-purpose packaging, and globalization trends.

To hear more on the exciting trends and developments in the medical plastics market, please see the recording of this fireside discussion here. Also, be sure to stay tuned for more information on M. Holland and Plastics News Fireside Chats continuing in 2018.


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