Like most industries, the healthcare industry has changed. But compared with most industries, healthcare and medicine are continuously changing, while at the same time constraints such as costs, quality care, and safety are the top challenges. Therefore, medical and other health care providers are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve patient treatments and reduce patient infections, all the while becoming more cost efficient. One of the places that healthcare-related manufacturers have turned to in the past decade is to the use and standardization of plastic components, mostly through the use of plastic injection molding.
Plastic injection molding is a manufacturing process by injecting molten (melted) plastic into a specific mold – which is formed in the inverse of the product’s shape. The molten plastic cools in the mold, hardens and takes on the shape of the mold. The mold then opens and the part is ejected out. Then, the process is repeated automatically. In medical devices, plastic injection molding is used to manufacture parts from tiny “micro-sized” components, to complete medical devices.
Read more about plastic injection molding here.
Onto the top 5 benefits of plastic components in healthcare products
1. Less infection
Patients have directly benefitted from plastic within medical devices. To help combat the growing concern of MRSA and other hospital-borne staph infections, high tech polymers and “antimicrobial plastic” have been created and used in devices that reduce the risk of infection to patients. These plastics repel or even kill most bacteria, even on high-touch surfaces, preventing infections. Interestingly, antimicrobial plastics have an extremely high effectiveness of killing bacteria even when surfaces aren’t regularly cleaned.
Statistically, the United States has the lowest rate of cross-staph infections, attributed in large part to the wide use of plastic in the healthcare industry. Additionally, plastic disposables, plastic containers that resist hazardous substances, and sterilized plastic packaging also help keep infection rates low.
2. Increased Safety
Just from the use of safety measures inherent to or designed into plastic components, plastic has had a significant impact on increased safety of patients. For example, virtually all pharmaceutical packaging has tamper-proof measures such as blister packs and childproof caps. Additionally, plastics do not shatter, which makes it generally safer than glass for transport or storage of hazardous materials and specimens. Plastics also effectively preserve the integrity of other materials, by the use of protective coatings.
Imagine the days when metal was used for virtually everything medical? Today, plastic components are an excellent replacement for metal, and often as strong or stronger, like FR-4. But strength notwithstanding, plastics have improved the comfort of products used that allow for healthier and normal lives. For example, some metal-allergic patients have benefitted from sterile, hypo-allergenic plastic which allows for better care and treatment. In other examples, plastic is simply lighter, such as in the user of eyeglass frames and artificial limbs, hip replacements, and more. Plastic components are an excellent alternative to metal components and devices that cause patients discomfort or pain.
3. The ability to create devices where it wasn’t previously possible
New plastic technologies are allowing medical inventors and manufacturing engineers to develop new medical devices. Because of the ability to design and manufacture components from the tiniest and intricate molds, plastics are now being used in surgical devices and procedures, and products like modern pacemakers, stents, or joint replacement devices.
4. Cost controls
Plastics have helped contribute to a reduction in medical costs, for the medical providers – and sometimes translated to consumer costs.
For example, cost savings can come from the use of smaller, lightweight and portable medical devices used in in-home treatments (such as kidney dialysis machines, bathtub chairseat lifts, or even simple bed pans).
Plastics keep medical devices and instruments in service longer versus metal fatigue, corrosion and use. Metallic devices can wear quicker, while plastics may better withstand stresses due to the plastic’s structural integrity or malleability. This is especially true in re-usable plastics, which have longer useful lives compared to single-use metal devices.
Plastic components are typically cheaper to mass produce, simply by the cost of ‘raw materials’ and the speed and high tolerances of the injection mold process. And to replace a component, plastics have proven to given healthcare providers a faster delivery and less downtime.
Plastic components have helped healthcare patients live healthier and happier lives, while at the sea time passing the savings onto the healthcare device manufacturers and healthcare providers. As healthcare continues to improve, so will the use and effectiveness of plastic components.