Plastics in the Medical Industry

The medical industry is constantly changing to provide better treatments to patients while increasing efficiencies. Because of their numerous advantages, plastics have helped make the industry safer, more affordable and innovative. If you’re thinking about integrating plastics into your medical application manufacturing, here are some things to keep in mind.

Benefits of Plastics in the Medical Industry

Plastics help the medical industry become safer and more financially efficient. For example, plastics keep consumers safe, with tamper-proof pharmaceutical packaging. Because plastics do not shatter, they are safer when it comes to storing both regular and hazardous substances. Moreover, plastics have been replacing metal in the medical industry for similar safety reasons. With hypoallergenic plastic alternatives, patients allergic to metal can receive safer treatments. They are also as strong as metal, yet much lighter. Additionally, high tech polymers and antimicrobial plastics reduce the risk of infection. In fact, these plastics can even repel and kill bacteria on surfaces.

Because plastics have a lower material costs, and injection molding is cost effective, plastics reduce costs, for both medical providers and consumers. Plastic medical devices are smaller, lighter and portable. As a result, plastic medical devices offer a wider range of in-home treatments. Furthermore, plastics, especially reusable plastics, last longer than metal counterparts. Metallic devices are more prone to corrosion and tend to wear more quickly than plastics. By utilizing plastics, professionals in the medical industry can decrease the amount of money spent on replacements.

In addition to safety and economic benefits, plastics encourage the development of new medical products. Since plastics make it possible for components to be produced from very small molds, they give engineers more design and manufacturing options.

Common Uses of Plastics in the Medical Industry

Eyeglasses: Plastics are used to manufacture frames and lenses for eyeglasses. Thanks to plastics, the frames and lenses are much lighter. Eyeglasses are also safer when made with plastics, since plastics do not shatter like glass.

Child-proof Caps: Most of us are so used to childproof caps that we sometimes do not even notice them. It can be hard to believe that childproof caps were not always part of pharmaceutical packaging. Fortunately, plastic tamper-proof caps now protect not only the substance inside, but also children and pets.

Other uses: You can also find plastics in artificial knees and hips, surgical gloves, bedpans, bathtub chair seat lifts, petri dishes and kidney dialysis machines.

Tips for Engineers to Consider

While plastics offers many benefits, there are quite a few things to keep in mind when producing and manufacturing plastic-based medical components.

  1. Check the properties of plastics in reliable conditions.While a datasheet may provide comprehensive information about a plastic, the properties listed are often measured in ideal conditions; however, some plastics may have different characteristics in different conditions. For instance, strength and stiffness can vary depending on the situation and the environment. Therefore, it is important for engineers to review details or test the plastic materials before making a decision on which one to use.
  2. Be aware of humidity and temperature. Temperature and humidity are just a few of factors that impact plastics. Just like other materials, plastics can expand if there is a change in temperature. Even if the change is not large, it can significantly influence how the plastic components fit and function. In some cases, even handling the parts can alter the temperature. Similarly, in humid conditions, plastics may change size if they absorb moisture.
  3. “Small” changes may not be small. If you add colors to plastics or if the color naturally changes during the manufacturing process, the plastic’s physical and mechanical properties may change

Plastics have greatly improved the U.S. medical industry, boosting safety and efficiency. However, it is important to understand the challenges of plastic medical manufacturing, since even a seemingly small change can make a huge difference. To make the most of this technology, be mindful of both the risks and benefits.

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