7. March 2012   6:19 pm
Jeff Leighty

Jeff Leighty
Elgin, IL

Hello again,

Last week I attended the Polymers & Plastics in Medical Applications conference in Las Vegas and what a great event it was. Not just because it was in Vegas but because it was a welcomed change from the medical mega-tradeshows. This was a small, industry-focused event where you get to meet just about everyone who attends. The two-day conference brought together device makers, raw materials suppliers, molders and a top-notch slate of speakers. Topics ranged from new substrate materials for drug delivery and bioresorbable materials to new molding techniques to antimicrobial solutions for devices and materials. One hot topic is the embrittlement of plastic materials by the overuse or misuse of cleaning/disinfection chemicals at clinics and hospitals.

In an effort to minimize the impact of hospital acquired infections (HAIs) more aggressive substances like alcohols, bleaches and QUATs (quaternary ammonium cation cleaners) are being used, alone or mixed together in cleaning “cocktails”, to disinfect medical devices. These products can react with the substrate material in the device making it brittle and unable to stand up to rough handling in the hospital setting.

So what does all this have to do with plasma?

One solution to the embrittlement problem is to alloy different plastic substrate materials together to get the best features of multiple materials and blend them together in a new way. While that may solve the embrittlement problem the new material may not  bond with adhesives, inks and coatings.  One of the conference speakers explained how every ingredient in the masterbatch has “give and take” consequences, ie: add something to reduce gas permeability and it increases rigidity or an additive to increase surface energy might decrease biocompatibility. That’s where plasma comes in. By relying on plasma for the downstream assembly issues the engineers can focus their efforts on the main problem–the embrittlement. Chances are, a quick plasma treatment of the new material will make bonding, printing and sealing the device components no problem at all. Plus, why add surface energy modifiers to the bulk material if you only need it at the surface. Plasma treatment goes only where you need it, not where you don’t and plasma will not effect the bulk properties.

The more new materials the engineers come up with the more plasma treatment will be needed for secondary assembly, coating and decorating operations on medical devices. You can bet on that!

‘Til next time…

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