INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: Evolving Health Care Demands and the Impact on Product Development

While there are a handful of major players in the medical and health care industries, there are actually more than 6,500 active medical device companies in the United States — most of which are smaller firms with fewer than 50 employees. There is little doubt that, with the combined industry efforts, research and development in the medical device space will continue to innovate and grow for years to come.

What drives innovation at these companies ranges from economic indicators to technology advancements to government regulations. But some of the most interesting factors driving development right now can be found in demographics and consumer behavior.

So, what does is mean? The fluctuation in demographics will translate to an increased demand for devices supporting later life care as the baby boomers enters their 70s. This includes everything from surgical devices to support orthoscopic procedures to at-home glucose measurement equipment. Furthermore, we’ll start to see an upward trend in births as Gen Yers move into their 30s and start families. These factors will start to shape how thousands of medical and health care companies re-imagine existing products and development new ones.

As a result, there is a heightened need to launch products and devices to market quickly. Iterative development of medical components and devices will reply on various rapid manufacturing processes and materials to ensure products have best chance at successful medical submissions and market trials. And because these products need to pass a significant number of functional tests before being approved for the market, prototypes need to be produced as close as possible to the finished product. This will mean using similar, if not identical, engineering-grade materials and manufacturing methods for prototypes as for production parts.

From metal 3D printing of extremely small surgical components to low-volume injection molding of optical silicone, Proto Labs is equipped to help large and small medical companies tackle the impending changes in the American demographic landscape.

WATCH: ProtoQuote with Design Analysis

Our automated, interactive ProtoQuotes with real-time pricing information and free design for manufacturability (DFM) analysis are one of the most valuable tools you can get at Proto Labs. You can upload a 3D CAD model online at any time to receive a quote within hours.

The DFM analysis helps eliminate potential problems like sink, challenging undercuts or walls that are too thin or thick. Once a part design is ready and a quote approved, production begins almost immediately.

See how easy it is to navigate ProtoQuote with our quick video.

 

Upload a part today for a ProtoQuote with design analysis.

TIPS WITH TONY: High-Temperature Thermoplastics

We offer two high-temperature thermoplastics: PEEK and PEI. Both high-performance materials can be machined and injection molded, and produce parts that can withstand extreme temperatures.

PEEK
PEEK parts contain excellent mechanical and chemical resistance during high-temperature applications. Its mechanical properties consist of tensile modulus strengths of 90-200 MPa and a melting temperature of 662˚F (343˚C). Some grades of PEEK have operating temperatures around 482˚F (250˚C).

Because of its robustness, PEEK is commonly used in applications for mechanical and medical instruments. PEEK is also used widely in the aerospace, automotive and chemical industries due to the insulating properties and creep resistance of any dimensional changes in high-temperature applications.

PEI
Like PEEK, PEI (often called by its trade name Ultem) offers outstanding elevated thermal resistance, high strength, stiffness and chemical resistance. PEI consists of tensile modulus strengths of 96-190 MPa and with a melting temperature above 420˚F.

PEI is available in transparent and opaque colors including glass additives for improved mechanical properties. Unlike other thermoplastics, PEI provides optimal strength and resists stress cracking when the material is exposed to hydrocarbons, alcohols and acids that makes them ideal for automotive and aerospace applications.

Which Manufacturing Process is Best?
If you’re in need of small quantities (up to 200) of PEEK and PEI parts, we can machined them in less than 3 days. For increased quantities in the thousands, rapid injection molding can produce parts in 15 days or less.

The physical properties vary little between processes, so please test out one sample using machining before moving to injection molding if you are unsure if your parts design is complete or not.

Contact us if you have any further questions about high-temp plastics and specific questions regarding PEEK or PEI. We have a full staff of customer service engineers who can be reached at customerservice@protolabs.com or 877-479-3680.

THE SHORT LIST: 5 Observations on West Coast Trade Expos

Disneyland is not the only venue making magic this week in Anaheim. The city’s mammoth convention center is hosting six “co-located” expos — ATX West, Electronics West, MD&M West, Pacific Design & Manufacturing, PLASTEC West and WestPack, which is attracting a global collection of product designers, engineers, software developers, inventors and entrepreneurs.

A banner outside the Anaheim Convention Center.

Here’s what is being discussed in nearby convention-center hotel lobbies after day one of the show on Tuesday. The event continues through Thursday. Continue reading

3D Printing Methods for Medtech Prototypes

Being able to quickly produce prototype parts is critical to creating an environment of innovation that can lead to medical device market success. By removing inefficiencies, manufacturers should expect to have prototype parts in a few days, not months. The prototype method must be fast enough to allow multiple iterations in a condensed time frame, and possess the scale to allow for multiple iterations at the same time.

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Rapid manufacturing methods like 3D printing are leveraged to help drastically reduce development time for medical devices.

Additive manufacturing (AM), also called 3D printing, enables quick evaluation of new medical product designs without making compromises due to complex part geometries. Using AM offers easier design changes and at a low cost. When prototyping via 3D printing, designers should not expect a finished part, although it should be noted 3D printing processes can yield finalized products. Stereolithography, for example, has a number of post-secondary finishing processes and direct metal laser sintering produces fully dense end-use metal parts.

There may be limits to color and texture choices, and in certain instances, thermoplastic-like materials will differ from the final production material used in process like molding and machining. If the surface finish, texture, color and coefficient of friction vary from the end material, it is difficult to accurately assess the subtle needs and benefits of these properties.

The main advantage of 3D printing is that it provides accurate form and fit testing. The build process of additive technology can accurately produce the form and size of the desired part, making it very useful for early evaluation of new medical parts. It is best used to identify design flaws, make changes, and then make second-generation machined parts or invest in tooling to create injection-molded parts. This article reviews that various AM printing methods commonly used in prototyping.

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