Plastics have become indispensable in medicine
More than half of all medical products manufactured worldwide are made of plastics. The specific requirements in medicine put plastic materials in a monopoly position in some areas such as in dialysis, blood bags, and tube feeding. Plastics cover both high technology and apparently profane help tools.
Today, tubes and cables are high-precision products, allowing to comply with accurate flow rates and pressure requirements. The material can be found in protective clothing just as in the equipment of an operating room, thus helping to guarantee hygiene and aseptic conditions in medicine. And sterile plastics packaging makes sure that the soothers in the maternity ward, disposable syringes, scalpels, wound dressing, drugs, and liquids always fulfil highest safety standards.
We all know the present images of intensive care units with their tubes, catheters, and monitoring devices. All these tools contain quality plastics. Highly specialised polyamides or polyether block amides, for example, guarantee safe medical treatment and protect patients against germs and contaminants.
Moreover, plastics are also used in the body in the meantime. As implants, they support or replace the function of concerned sections of bones – e.g., at the spinal column or in parts of the face – for a longer period of time, often even lifelong. For the body, all types of implants are foreign objects. This is why the materials used should possibly be just as solid and, at the same time, as flexible as the body’s own bones, and should not fatigue. Nowadays, implant plastics are mostly superior to the variants made of metal.
And above all, they can be sterilised easily and feature a high biocompatibility. As high-performance plastics for long-term implants are tested in accordance with strictest quality standards to make sure that no negative reactions take place with the body. The fact that the materials are permeable for X-rays, also makes the right placement as well as the post-operative treatment easier for physicians.
Innovative manufacturing with 3D printing
In order to produce patient-specific – individual – implants, a well-coordinated manufacturing technology is required. So far, the commercially available implants are milled from granulate or semi-finished material, compression-moulded, or extruded in the injection moulding process, and distributed in a variety of standard sizes. In the meantime, manufacturers have gone one step further: the development of the first 3D-printable implant materials provides state-of-the-art medical engineering with new possibilities for individual patient treatment.