What’s new and exciting in medical materials

Research conceptMaterials science evolves within a dynamic space, and this is especially true of medical materials, where research is taking this evolution to a whole new level. Advances in medical device design and manufacturing inadvertently have been the driving factor. A case in point is the introduction of 3D and now 4D printing, as well as the boom in digital patient care, all of which have opened the door to innovation in medical materials.

This new focus has paved the way for aggressive material development activities that I find very stimulating. For example, until fairly recently material selection for any manufacturing project, including medical device fabrication, revolved around the mechanical properties of the material. Engineering databases and material characterization property data sources, such as mold flow and NX software, were based entirely on industrial-grade materials with no segregation between medical materials and their industrial-grade alternatives. Properties such as tensile strength, flexural modulus and melt flow, to name a few, were the only design parameters considered to be critical. A new definition of medical device design optimization, including factors such as environmental concerns, product stewardship, biocompatibility, end-of-life management, recycling, reusability, sterilization chemistry and supply chain complexity are all considered essential today.

Jacqueline Anim will participate in a panel discussion on developments in medical materials at the co-located PLASTEC East and MD&M East event, part of the East Coast's largest advanced design and manufacturing trade show and conference, in New York City from June 12 to 14. The panel is scheduled for June 13 at 1 PM at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Admission to conference sessions is free for event attendees. Register now!

The recent global push to separate medical-grade polymers, coatings, inks, adhesives and so forth from their industrial-grade counterparts is worth noting, as this is a big technological turning point for the medical industry. I would add that this is, in fact, business vital, since this movement will enable formulation lock down, enabling compliance to current and future regulations. Heightened scrutiny will prevent the selection of materials with substances of very high concern (SVHC). You don’t get a second chance—it is important to choose the right material as the cost for choosing the wrong one could be staggering. 

With end use in mind—for example, short-term, patient-contacting medical device applications—material formulators are evaluating and selecting vegetable-based additives and oils and eliminating animal-based derivatives from their polymer chemistries. These advances would not have occurred without a trigger or a source of demand. One may ask, “what good is technology if there’s no material to support it” or, for that matter, “what good is advancement in material development if there’s no use for it?” These questions go hand in hand.

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