Although metal tubing has been a mainstay of the medical device industry for many years, the use of medical tubing made of plastic is growing.
While plastic is perceived to be both flexible and cheap for use in many medical applications, there are a number of myths and reasons why it may not be a better choice than metal tubing for your application.
Myth #1 Plastic is biocompatible and non-toxic.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) polymer has a long history in the medical device industry due to its versatility and cost. However the FDA has identified serious adverse effects associated with a common softener (DEHP) used to increase PVC flexibility. Non-DEHP plastics are available, but these materials are typically more expensive and the long-term risks aren’t fully known yet.
Myth #2 Disposable medical tubing is the way to go.
Disposable devices are not only practical for single-use applications, but can also help curb the spread of infection. However, healthcare facilities are generating up to 25 pounds of plastic waste per day per patient in the form of medical tubing and other devices. And for every pound of plastic product manufactured in the U.S., 32 pounds of waste is also created.
Myth #3 Plastic medical tubing can be reused as easily as metal tubing can be.
When medical tubing is reused, the material must be able to maintain its desired characteristics under repeated exposure to disinfectants and sterilization processes. Depending on the material characteristics, metal tubing can be resterilized using a number of methods. However, plastic tubing may not be able to stand up to those same methods and maintain its desired characteristics.
Myth #4 Plastic medical tubing is as strong as metal.
Some high-performance polymers can provide metal-comparable levels of strength and rigidity at ambient temperatures. However, metal medical tubing excels in shape retention, strength-to-weight ratios, and corrosion resistance. What’s more, it can be more challenging to maintain a clean, non-deformed end cut when cutting lengths of braided plastic tubing.
Myth #5 Plastic medical tubing is more cost-effective than metal.
Disposable plastic medical tubing and devices eliminate the cost of resterilization. And they can be cheaper to process than metals. However, the cost to make a mold for large-scale manufacturing can cost tens of thousands of dollars, making small runs prohibitively expensive. Plus, plastic cannot be cut as exactly as metal can be — an important consideration wherever lives may depend on the accuracy of a tube.
Myth #6 Plastics are the future.
Maybe. But biodegradable plastic devices that can be implanted and then reabsorbed by the body have been promised for years. However, they have not yet materialized. Meanwhile, the use of metal medical tubing continues to evolve and is highly compatible with the human body.
As medical technology advances, Metal Cutting will continue to be here to provide tubing and other parts that meet the needs of the medical device industry.