Durability: Why Metal is Still the Best Material for Medical Device Manufacture

Plastic is often heralded as the way forward for medical devices, but it's not without its drawbacks. Metal is still growing and improving as a medical material, and should not be discounted in favour of the plastic hype. Metal is highly durable, making it the ideal choice for many medical devices for multiple reasons. Here are just 3 reasons why you should still consider durable metal fabrication when getting your next medical device manufactured. 

Durability Makes Metal Safer

While it is true that high performance plastics can be durable, metal is still the stronger choice. The alloys used in medical manufacture are able to withstand very high amounts of pressure, heat and repeated impact, while brittle plastics are more prone to breakage and deformation. Take, for example, two materials used to make hip prostheses. Lennite UHMWP, a thermoplastic, has a yield strength of just 22.9 MPa (meaning it can take 3,320 pounds of force per square inch). Titanium alloy TIMETAL 367, on the other hand, has a yield strength of 800 MPa (116,000 pounds of force per square inch). Metal alloys also have added benefits like corrosion resistance, and the ability to be manufactured in more precise sizes than plastic. These factors are incredibly important for devices that will need to penetrate bone, come into contact with corrosive substances, or remain in the body for long periods and withstand constant strain. If a device breaks, bends or corrodes while in contact with the patient's body, the results could be catastrophic. Resistant metals are a far safer choice for medical devices that could threaten a patient's health or life if damaged.

Durability Makes Metal Reusable

Disposable plastic devices definitely have their place in today's medical world. They reduce the need for sterilisation, which in turn helps keep infection rates and labour costs lower. However, all this plastic waste wreaks havoc on the environment. Did you know that 1/3 of all hospital waste in Australia is plastic, and items like tubing make up a large amount of that figure? If these plastics are burned, they will release toxins into the atmosphere. If they're simply disposed of, they end up in landfills. If your next medical device will include tubing or something similar, consider whether it needs to be disposable plastic. If not, you should aim to make something reusable, and metal can be a good material choice for this, depending on the device. Given its resistance to chemicals and heat, metal can be sterilised manually or through autoclaves repeatedly without damage. Metal's strength and impact resistance make these devices far less likely to break than plastics. As a result, metal is the ideal material for high sustainability.

Durability Makes Metal Cheaper

Given that metals are strong and reusable, it's no surprise that they can work out to be a cheaper choice than plastics. Hospitals are always looking to cut costs where possible, so a metal device that lasts years is preferable to a plastic device that needs to be replaced after every use. Metal can also be cheaper on the manufacturer's side for small runs of prototypes and new designs or technologies, as opposed to injection mouldings that require very expensive initial materials.