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Pipette tips to prostheses – mapping the medical market trends

22 December 2022

The coronavirus pandemic remains a key driver, yet the registration of international strategic medical projects is the emerging trend, reports Sumitomo (SHI) Demag expert.

Inevitably, the medical market was strongly influenced by the coronavirus pandemic over the past two years. A trend that’s anticipated to continue into the immediate future. 

However, there’s now a strong leaning towards larger strategic projects, notes Anatol Sattel, Director of Business Development, Medical at Sumitomo (SHI) Demag Plastics Machinery GmbH. This impacts medical moulding machinery choices. 

For some time, smaller, higher-speed machines with a clamping force under 180 tons were in great demand. Now, the expert reports increased requirements for larger machines to manufacture complex applications. Both areas are efficiently served by the company’s IntElect series.

At the beginning of the pandemic, small plastic parts, such as laboratory pipette tips, were in particularly high demand, notes Sattel. “Countries across the globe invested vast sums of money increasing their production capacity to mirror this demand, in parallel building up their corresponding machine technology. 

“Following on from the accelerated demand for PCR tests, microtitre plates featuring wells has significantly amplified due to their high throughput screening and diagnostics functionality.”

"The United States in particular has invested heavily in diagnostics, with a lot of laboratory equipment now being manufactured in Germany," Sattel reports. 

From rapid test cassettes to pipettes and tubes, corresponding plastic applications are produced in vast quantities. Likewise, the market for syringes grew rapidly after the introduction of Covid vaccinations. 

"This looks likely to continue for some time," he predicts. For these types of applications, manufacturers generally utilise larger machines within the IntElect series. 

The company is also closely observing the corona-preventative agent market, including oral tablets and nasal administration pumping sprays. 

"Producing these containers is anticipated to rise considerably in the coming months," states Sattel.

Additionally, there has been a sharp increase in strategic, more complex projects. Many of these were put on pause, due to the pandemic. 

“This is less about fast production and mass volumes, and more focused on the processing of new materials for more demanding applications," expands the Director of Business Development, Medical. 

He cites examples of consumer-oriented products, such as baby pacifiers and contact lenses, but also the growing market for drug delivery, insulin pens, incubators, dialysis equipment and prosthetic applications.

Given the company’s high medical processing competence and proven expertise in mass-manufacturing medical applications within the tightest of tolerances, Sattel expresses genuine confidence in Sumitomo (SHI) Demag’s machinery portfolio. He expands: “Our high-precision direct drive technology ensures more precision and repeatability. The result: higher quality medical components. 

“Known for being clean, cool, fast and quiet, because the drive systems are tailored to the applications, energy consumption is lower and less heat has to be dissipated from air-conditioned environments.” These features all help to reduce operating costs.

As a modular machine platform, the IntElect series offers great flexibility as well as significantly more tool space, especially when lined up against comparative all-electric machines on the market with up to 500 tons of clamping force. 

Continuing to highlight the critical differentiators, Sattel adds: “The IntElect’s flexibility extends to material plasticisation. Additionally, having the screw production in-house means that design adaptations can be swiftly implemented." 

Due to the high-performance drives on the IntElect series, energy efficiency and total cost of ownership (TCO) are significantly improved.  Confirmed by comprehensive lifetime tests on both the machines and components. Spindles tested under the toughest production conditions showed no signs of visible wear, even after millions of cycles. 

"The energy recovery system offers increased capacity. This not only improves efficiency, but also increases the longevity of the electrical components," explains Sattel. 

Additionally, improved temperature control of the spindles, motors and inverters helps to maintain a safe machine operation, even in the most demanding applications.

According to Sattel, Industry 4.0 interfaces that deliver process data acquisition and autonomous control are regarded by customers as critical, supporting agility and flexible production within the medical market. 

Comprehensive quality control and traceability of parts production are essential for minimising risks. To support these efforts, Sumitomo (SHI) Demag is currently developing an IoT dashboard to facilitate this data analysis and visualisation, transfer and storage of know-how, as well as maintenance planning and prediction. 

Within this assistance system, additional autonomous and interconnected functions are being conceived to provide valuable insight into machine performance and different production variables. 

The medical expert confirms that cycle and time-dependent data can already be collected via the machine interface and mapped using an app-based dashboard. 

“Initially, this data stored within a server can be applied to create KPI dashboards, visualise live production metrics, display historical data and trends, and generate robust analytics to contextualise data into meaningful reports. 

“Included is a trouble-shooting guide to evaluate and resolve process deviations," explains Sattel.

Adherence to explicit ISO 13485 medical component quality assurance and validation standards are ensured by strict  user parameters. 

The key areas that might impact a stable process include changes in pressure, temperature, flow rate and cooling rates. If these are altered in any way without approval it can trigger a costly re-validation exercise. 

“Usage rights are assigned hierarchically, helping to regulate the people that have access to specific functions. This holds enormous savings potential in the validation of injection moulding processes for medical applications," reports Sattel.

Achieving this level of machine control, although beneficial, will extend in the future to assistance apps. Sumitomo (SHI) Demag has already commenced developing a process optimisation system, whereby material and knowledge can be integrated with simulation tools to observe advanced settings and capture deeper processing insights. 

"Our ultimate vision is an intelligent machine that can independently make predictions about part quality, machine wear and failures and deliver optimisations online," reveals Sattel. 

"This allows for greater process consistency, enhanced product quality and for real-time machine maintenance to be adjusted accordingly."

The Medical Business Development Director affirms that, in addition to enduring technology, application-specific knowledge remains of utmost importance to customers within the medical and life sciences markets. 

Accordingly, training courses are accessible to widen the breadth of machine knowledge, appealing to a range of professionals including sales managers and application engineers. 

Furthermore, Sattel testifies that the Group’s international presence fosters greater collaboration. Affirming that the sharing of project successes leads to global partnerships that are so pivotal to a responsive market aligned to future medical needs. 

“If the pandemic spotlighted anything within the medical sector, it’s the crucial need to retain this multi-lateral and multi-stakeholder cooperation. 

“This open and unencumbered exchange of ideas, working with trusted partners, is proven to yield the strongest and fastest results,” concludes Sattel.

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