Saint-Gobain expands medical footprint, phases out phthalate plasticizers

By Doug Smock
Published: February 13th, 2013

Anaheim—Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics (Portage, WI) announced two acquisitions and the opening of a new Compass Technology extrusion line during MD&M West in Anaheim, CA as it continues to scale up its presence as a supplier of fluid path products to the medical device market.

The two acquisitions are Twin Bay Medical (Williamsburg, MI), which makes flexible tube retainers and single-use components, and American Fluoroseal (Gaithersburg, MD), a manufacturer of fluoropolymer bags.

The second Compass Technology silicone extrusion line is opening at the company’s Beaverton, MI, plant. The first line opened eight months ago in Northboro, MA.  The Compass development was driven by growing customer requirements for more precision tolerances and more repeatability, Aaron Updegrove, marketing manager-medical, told Plastics Today in an interview at the MD&M event.

“We started by saying what would a silicone extrusion look like if you were starting with a clean piece of paper.”

One important aspect of the system is a closed loop control system that automatically adjusts the extrusion process to reduce variation. Data is monitored, collected, and delivered to customers. Another important component is a reformulation of the chemistry of the material. Updegrove said the tolerance control improved by an order of magnitude of 2.5 to 5. Tolerances can now by controlled to 1%.

Material formulations are optimized for tear strength, compression set, elongation, modulus, and durometer. Many of the formulations are custom, said Updegrove, “because not all pumps are the same.” Performance requirements differ, requiring differing compounds. Elastomeric properties of the silicone can be tailored to meet different pumping demands, for example.

Saint-Gobain engineers developed a software tool that can determine optimal tubing thicknesses or physical properties based on a CAD model.

Updegrove would not disclose the types of extruders or extruder components, such as motors that are used in the Compass Technology. He said the company even considers much of the downstream technology its intellectual property because of growing demands for precision cut lengths and other properties post extruder.

New products are often introduced on the Compass lines. Existing products tend to be made on one of the company’s other extrusion lines because customers don’t want to requalify existing products with the Food and Drug Administration. Global demand for the Compass Technology is being supported from the two U.S. lines.

Separately, Updegrove told Plastics Today that Saint-Gobain Performance Products will no longer make PVC tubing with phthalate plasticizers after June because of growing customer interest and a phase-out mandated in Europe in 2015 by REACH regulations. “We wanted to be out front on this,” Updegrove said. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics is using a variety of alternate technologies depending on specific requirements.

Reformulation of the company’s flexible PVC products began in 2011.

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