Manufacturing items used in the medical field is complicated. Even relatively simple items like packaging or face shields are held to strict regulations and are often updated as new technology improves performance. Just as important as maintaining regulations and utilizing these updates is the ability to ramp up production quickly and scale for unexpected increases in demand.
While COVID-19 is an extreme example of this need to be able to scale production of medical supplies and equipment quickly, any change in health and medicine can be a factor. A difficult flu season or an innovation in a type of surgery that requires a specific tool can require rapid scaling. Our thermoforming company in North Carolina is exploring how medical thermoforming makes it possible to ramp up production quickly without compromising regulations or quality
Challenges Facing Medical Plastic Manufacturing
first, let’s look at how traditional methods of manufacturing plastics for the medical industry make it challenging to scale production or to adapt and manufacture a new part or product quickly. Medical injection molding has been the standard and most commonly utilized method of plastic production for everything from artificial joints used in hip and knee replacements to product packaging. While injection molding offers the intricate detailing, varying thickness, and minute part size that is often necessary, it does have some drawbacks.
The biggest concerns with using medical injection molding are lead times and cost. Injection molding involves melting plastic to a liquid state and using high-pressure injectors to force the liquid polymer into a custom-made, double-sided tool made from stainless steel or copper alloy. The cost of materials and tooling is high, and the preparation time required to design, prototype, and fabricate a mold can take several months. In the healthcare industry, this lead time is not always available, especially when there are several parts and components that are needed, including packaging.
How Medical Thermoforming Offers an Alternative
Thermoforming involves heating sheets of plastic to a soft, malleable state, and fitting them over a custom-designed mold. From there, a vacuum is turned on, pulling air from between the plastic and the mold, creating a tighter fit and a more accurate shape, or a vacuum is used while the plastic is blasted from the outside with pressurized air, pressing it more tightly to the mold. Pressure forming is the method used to get sharp corners and more precise detailing.
Because thermoforming only requires a single side of a mold, and significantly less pressure, tooling can be fabricated in a fraction of the time as an injection mold. Additionally, the tooling can be fabricated from aluminum which is significantly less expensive. This means the finished product can be delivered several weeks after the initial design process begins, rather than several months. Additionally, thermoforming offers accuracy, part-to-part repeatability, and low overall price per unit which is, of course, essential in medical supplies.
While thermoforming is not ideal in all situations – micro-sized parts, highly detailed pieces, pieces with varying thicknesses – one area we’re seeing an increase in medical thermoforming is in packaging.
Thermoforming Medical Packaging
Medical packaging, whether it’s for single-use tools, medication, or even equipment enclosures must adhere to strict FDA guidelines, particularly related to sterilization. Thermoformed plastics, such as polypropylene, polystyrene, and PVC all hold up to the necessary sterilization processes and are exceptionally durable, making them ideal for medical packaging.
Even when a medical device or piece of equipment must be made through injection molding, thermoformed packaging can be ready so it can be used as soon as possible to package up the completed device and shipped out, improving supply chain efficiency and getting needed products into the healthcare industry as quickly as possible.
Get a Quote for Medical Thermoforming and Custom Plastics
At Advanced Plastiform, Inc., we work with the healthcare industry to provide high-quality, durable custom plastics at a low per-unit cost and a fast lead time. In addition to both injection molding and thermoforming, we offer several value-added services designed to streamline production and minimize costs while improving our clients’ experiences across the Mid Atlantic and Southeast, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia.