Knowledge Hub


Plastic Positivity – Medical Focus

For the third part of our #PlasticPositivity campaign we’re taking a look at the benefits of plastics within the medical industry.

Over the last year the medical and healthcare industry has featured in the headlines daily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With urgent requirements for PPE and medical devices, plastics have never been more critical within the medical industry.

Plastic is one of the most commonly used materials in the medical industry, it’s become an essential part of the modern medical industry and without the use of plastic materials, modern healthcare would not be possible. Over the last decade the involvement of plastic has continued to increase, and it’s use not only help to enhance patient safety, but also makes procedures simple and reduces the cost for hospitals, reduces the risk of transferring diseases and help with pain management.

We wanted to take a look at some of the benefits that plastic has for the medical industry, plastic often gets a bad name in the press, especially with single use medical items but it also has amazing benefits that are not often talked about.

Firstly, we’ll take a look at Medical Grade Plastic, and what makes it different from standard grades of plastic.

What is Medical Grade Plastic?

To become medical grade, plastic materials must be tested and certified for a range of properties including (but not inclusive of) biocompatibility, temperature resistance, chemical resistance, and corrosion resistance. These different properties are paramount within the medical industry and the barrage of regulatory tests ensure they meet specific criteria. It is not just the properties and characteristics of the material that are important. Part of medical grading is achieved by ensuring there is extra care during manufacture, minimising polymerisation residues and carefully selecting additives such as antioxidants and plasticisers.

Like standard grades of plastic, there are thousands of different grades of medical plastics, all with different properties and characteristics making them suitable for various applications. An important part of the medical design process involves considering the technical and regulatory requirements of the final product so that the most suitable medical grade of material can be determined. The medical industry has extremely strict regulatory requirements which must be adhered to ensuring products that they are safe, high quality and suitable for their intended use.

With a better understanding of medical grade plastic, let us explore a few of the advantages they offer.

Advantages of using plastics within the medical industry:

Plastics ability to be adapted to many different applications via an array of processing techniques is one of the biggest advantages for the medical industry. Modern healthcare would not be possible without the use of plastics, most of what you see in a hospital room is made of some form of plastic. From the casing of MRI machines, bed pans, inhalation masks, syringes and heart valves, the list is almost endless. Pill casings, internal implants, flow controllers, gloves, aprons, and even sterile packaging are all manufactured from plastic.

Easy Sterilisation:
Sterile environments and equipment within the medical industry are vital to reduce the risk of infections. Plastic is very easy to sterilise if the grade of material has the required characteristics.

Materials with temperature resistant properties can be sterilised at high temperatures, or chemical sterilisation is suitable for materials with chemical resistant properties.
Engineered polymers have evolved over the years with material manufacturers developing grades of plastics that have antimicrobial properties within them. These grades of material are highly effective at both repelling and killing dangerous bacteria, even if they are not regularly sterilised.

The safety of patients is paramount within the medical industry, and plastic has fantastic properties to ensure this is possible.

Hypo-allergenic grades of plastic are vital for patients who are allergic to or whose bodies reject traditional materials.

Some grades of medical plastic are shatter-proof and non-permeable, meaning it’s a fantastic alternative to glass or steel and also a great solution for safely transporting biohazardous materials.

Another safety feature is tamper-proof caps and sealed packaging. Keeping medicines, surgical tools, and patient samples safe and secure is vital and plastic plays a huge part in this.

Single Use Medical Plastics

Single use plastics have always played a key role in the medical sector. Not only are they essential to reduce the risk of infection, but they ensure devices and drugs have not been tampered with through the use of secure packaging with seals.

During the COVID-19 pandemic single use plastics have been vital for testing, hand sanitiser bottles, and disposable items such as gloves, face shields and aprons to keep our keyworkers safe. A global pandemic like this has really shown the true value single use plastics have. Some of the other benefits are:

Prevent Spread of Infection:
Single use medical plastics provide vital benefit to the consumers and the society by preventing the spread of contagious infectious diseases. Medical items such as syringes, drug tests, gloves and aprons are a necessity to prevent contamination when doctors or nurses are dealing with patients. Disposing of these items via biohazard waste management ensures the bacteria is disposed of correctly and hugely reduces the risk of spreading the infectious matter.

Due to the risk of infection, recycling single use plastic is not possible and incineration or biohazard waste disposal is preferred. The sector often comes under scrutiny for this, and over the years the medical industry has been seeking new ways to meet environmental requirements. To help improve environmental issues, the type of plastic being used for medical items has been looked at to ensure that plastics with better environmental performance are used, for example selecting grades of plastic that emit fewer emissions when incinerated.

RP Technologies Health Care Plastic Components

Economic Advantages:
Due to the requirement of items to be completely sterile, there are lack of suitable alternative materials to use in the medical industry.  Alternatives such as glass and stainless steel, compared to plastic, have much higher manufacturing costs. Single use items are also purchased in large quantities, which in turn has economic advantages due to bulk buying discounts for the manufacturers.

RP Technologies have vast experience within the medical industry and have manufactured tools and plastic injection moulded components for a variety of medical devices and applications. We have a clean environment and close relationships with material suppliers who can provide advice to ensure the grade of material matches your application requirements. If you have a medical project in the pipeline, please get in touch to discuss your requirements.

action image
We can put your plans into action today

Award-winning aluminium tooling, plastic injection moulding, CNC machining, and rapid prototyping. We specialise in fast turnarounds of high quality components.

Want to know more? Get a quote