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Sustainability An Issue With Medical Product Design

Posted April 20, 2010

WESTLAKE, OHIO (April 20, 2:15 p.m. ET) -- Design pros are looking for sustainable opportunities in the medical device field -- but they’re not always easy to find.

“We tend to overlook cycle time, because it’s not in the direct recyclable direction that people anticipated,” said Mike Fritschy, senior director with injection molder Nypro Healthcare in Clinton, Mass. “But there are ways to make half of the components with one-third of the material.”

Fritschy was one of five design and manufacturing experts on a panel at the Plastics in Medical Devices conference, held April 12-14 in Westlake.

In some cases, medical device makers have been able to use recycle material and reduce wall thickness as ways of using less resin and promoting sustainability, said Chris Kaye, technical innovation director at U.S. Endoscopy in Mentor, Ohio.

But he added that use of recycled material is less of an option in disposable medical devices because of the risk of cross contamination.

There’s also a big difference in the way that sustainability is viewed in the medical market vs. its image with consumers.
“In the medical industry, the term ‘sustainable design’ doesn’t resonate with customers,” said Matthieu Turpault, design director with product development firm Bresslergroup Inc. in Philadelphia. “There’s a lot of push back.”

Some of that difference is price-based, added Kaye, citing PVC as “a perfect example.” Many healthcare firms don’t want PVC in their products because of alleged health risks, but price points for PVC alternatives are more expensive, he explained.

“When [health care firms] see the price points for PVC alternatives, they don’t want to talk to you,” Kaye said.
Cultural differences also play a role in the medical market’s view of sustainability.

“In China, they want a durable good,” Fritschy said. “They don’t want to throw away a good insulin pen after only one use. That’s just not part of their culture.”

And although the sustainability trend so far has been less visible in medical than in consumer, it’s still there, according to Bill Evans, founder and principal of product development firm Bridge Design in San Francisco.

“There can be a knee-jerk reaction [in either market] of just recycling it or wanting to go to corn plastic,” he said.
Conference attendee Len Czuba — a medical market veteran who’s president of the Czuba Enterprises Inc. consulting firm in Lombard, Ill. — said that he was “against doing [sustainability] just because it’s the popular thing to do.”

“If you design a tray that’s too thin, you could ruin a $600 surgical instrument,” he added.




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