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Lightweight medical instruments can help make a difference


Radel®, a solution for metal replacement

Medical devices and accessories are lighter, and easier to customize and clean when they’re made of plastic instead of metal. So for the healthcare industry, Solvay’s Radel® PPSU is ready to serve.

The medical world is filled with all types of instruments that we’re used to seeing in the hands of nurses, doctors and dentists: surgical accessories, endoscopic devices, anesthesiology equipment, cases, trays, etc. We tend to keep a traditional mental image of these instruments and imagine them made of stainless steel and aluminum, but the reality of that is changing.
For the past 30 years, lightweight materials have been increasingly adopted in the medical world – particularly one specific plastic: Radel® polyphenylsulfone (PPSU), a sulfone polymer produced by Solvay. “Radel® is well known in medical circles, and has been for decades,” says Jeff Hrivnak, Business Development Manager at Solvay’s Healthcare Specialty Polymers. As such, it’s a key item in Solvay’s portfolio of solutions for healthcare applications

Advanced healthcare materials for better patient outcomes

The rationale for switching to plastic is well established and similar to the one for other categories of medical devices (such as long-term implants). The arguments are chiefly lightweighting and design flexibility, but one additional aspect is crucial when it comes to reusable medical instruments: resistance to sterilization. Radel® PPSU is a remarkably strong polymer. For example, objects made with it can be steam-sterilized over 1,000 times without losing their properties.

Sure, lightweighting might not be as critical an issue for medical device manufacturers as it has been for the automotive and aerospace industries, but it does play a role as a driver for the adoption of plastics in the field of healthcare: “Trays filled with medical instruments can actually get really heavy,” explains Jeff. “Using plastic can improve comfort and ergonomics when the instruments as well as the trays themselves are no longer made of metal.”
As for design flexibility, the possibilities offered by plastics tend to lower instruments’ total cost of ownership, thanks to better-adapted designs. “You just don’t design the same way as with metal; it’s a novel approach to medical instruments,” adds Jeff. He goes on citing the underlying trend in surgery today towards less invasive procedures. “When patients can leave the hospital the same day, that’s an important improvement, and plastics enable some of these medical innovations thanks to the design flexibility they provide.”

Polymers bring color to medical devices

What’s more, Radel® PPSU enables pigmentation possibilities that metal can’t offer. Coloring devices such as joint replacement trials or different parts of an instrument can make a big difference. For example, when conducting trials for a knee replacement, having different colors enables the surgeon to easily distinguish different sizes, thus saving time when selecting the right one for the patient. “Pigments and coloring are an important aspect for our customers,” confirms Jeff. “For example, we had one customer who wanted to develop a new medical instrument with seven different touchpoints that all needed to be colored differently. The only way you can do that is to make your instrument from plastic.”

Here as in many other fields – from medical grade sodium bicarbonate and polymer membranes for more efficient hemodialysis to protective coatings to guarantee the efficacy of medicines – Solvay is proud to collaborate with the medical world to help millions of people live a better, healthier life.

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