Let’s cut to the chase: medical-quality polymers are increasingly becoming the “go-to” material for a broad range of surgical devices. In some cases, the innate mechanical attributes of medical-grade polymers completely supplant metal from the surgical device design. In other applications, plastic and metal components are used together to create a device with the best attributes of both materials.
Including plastic into surgical equipment offers a number of benefits including higher functionality, lower cost and greater ergonomics, among others. Below are the top five benefits to utilizing injection molding for surgical devices:
1. LOWER DEVICE WEIGHT
New medical polymers boast mechanical properties very similar to conventional metals. In some applications, polymer resins are a direct substitute for metal — offering comparable device performance while drastically reducing device weight. Lower weight can play an important role in the surgical suite by helping to lower surgeon fatigue during extended procedures.
2. INCREASED DESIGN POSSIBILITES
Plastic injection molding give device designers far greater freedom in designing surgical equipment than is possible with metal. Injection molded parts can include features such as living-hinges or molded handles produced in a single injection step — features that would require costly, multiple steps if the device were made of metal.
3. COLORED OR TRANSPARENT DEVICES
Painted surgical instruments are rare because it’s simply not practical. Even for those few metal devices which are painted, their final color must blend into the base metal. Not very aesthetically pleasing or helpful to the surgeon, for that matter. Injection molded plastic devices, on the other hand, are pigmented through-and-through during the production process itself, which is better both hygienically and functionally: medical devices can be safely color-coded for easy identification or, in the case of transparent plastics, surgeons can look through the instrument for heightened visibility during procedures.
4. REDUCED STERILIZATION COSTS
Plastic device parts offer substantially reduced lifetime costs. That’s because they can be often disposed of rather than sterilized and reused, minimizing infection risks and device preparation time.
5. IMPROVED MRI COMPATIBILITY
Most metals are ferrous which preclude them from use near strong magnetic fields, as found in MRI environments. Plastics, by contrast, are immune to these magnetic fields, meaning plastic injection molded devices present no safety hazards when utilized in connection with MRI machines.
The decision to use the injection molding process is not necessarily an “all or nothing” proposition. In some applications, a combined metal/plastic is the best, cheapest alternative. With plastic “overmolding”, for example, a plastic coating is molded over metal to impart specific characteristics to the device, such as improved grip and control, while losing the strength and impact resistance of the base metal. In other cases, plastic can be used to replace a portion of a device with an unusual shape that would be difficult and/or costly to machine out of metal.
To sum up, plastic is taking its place alongside metal in cutting-edge surgical devices. And that’s good news for plastic injection molding manufacturers, surgeons and patients.