One of the faster developing markets in thermoplastics is the Medical market. After having spent 10 years working directly in Medical device R&D and production; and another 20 years indirectly supporting device firms, it is fascinating to watch the evolution of products, and to that point, the materials development that helps fuel it.
New thermoplastic elastomers are taking the place of rubber in many applications. Their resilience and high purity make them well suited for this in gasket and stopper applications. Being injection moldable, they process much more quickly and have a more stable process. Designers can solve a myriad of problems and address more market opportunities with the benefits these thermoplastics offer.
Bioresorbable polymers are seeing newer applications after having been around for some time in the orthopedic application arena. Bioresorbable (also called biodegradeable) refers to the complete breakdown and removal of a material over time and often by a known mechanism. Bioabsorbable refers to incomplete breakdown; the material may be partially digested and remain indefinitely in local tissue. The problem has always been that the polymers and composites supply base have been smaller companies. If the company does not survive, the company would be faced with possible supply interruption along with requalification and re-submittal to FDA due to the material change.
Polymers that resist bacterial attachment are garnering more attention as the problem of hospital-acquired infections continues to grow at alarming rates. The materials and their make-up work to stop bio-film formation.
Lastly, medical device firms are embracing the outsourcing model more and more. Not processing in-house makes them more dependent on their supply base for material information and applicability. Service providing injection molders will need to be doing more in-house education and R&D to familiarize themselves and as such be a better supplier to their customer.