Making the (medical) grade with plastics

3D printing was hailed as a revolution, but injection moulding is still king when it comes to volume-based medical grade plastics.

Medical Plastics Ltd, in Auckland’s East Tāmaki, uses both technologies, but 3D printing is generally limited to a very early part of the process, or to bespoke items.

“3D is very attractive; you see it on your screen and then you print the object, but that doesn’t always work for medical grade devices,” says owner John Fowler. “The process is very slow, sometimes taking several hours to produce one item.”

John says 3D comes into its own with bespoke items, such as valves or crowns for teeth.

When it comes to high volume, medical grade items, Medical Plastics has an edge in the market. It uses aluminium moulds at the prototyping stage because it enables them to make enough devices for a clinical trial before the aluminium wears out.

“We can prototype a device or part with aluminium which will handle about 100 shots. Once we’ve got it right, we move to a proper metal die which can handle up to one million shots.”
Production is housed in a purpose-built clean room with advanced robotics.

The company meets rigorous standards from raw materials through to the finished product. They run a photographic-based tooling and maintenance database, a traceability system, clean rooms for assembly and online tools for quality control.

“You shouldn’t have to worry about your supplier’s quality,” says John.

His ideal client is a New Zealand company that owns its intellectual property (IP) for a consumable and wants to export.

“We focus on two areas –clean room injection moulding and clean room assembly of products – for clients here and around the world,” says Medical Plastics owner John Fowler.

For many customers, their goal is to speed up development and get a product into the market faster, from concept through to design and production. Medical Plastics partner with these companies to produce high-end medical and food grade injection mould plastic manufacturing and assembling products for clients ranging from 3M to Fisher and Paykel.

Injection-moulded plastics can cope with large volumes and complexity making it an ideal process for products like their laboratory swab for 3M.

John sums it the company’s vision as offering “innovative solutions based on specialist expertise… and a good dollop of Kiwi ingenuity.”

By Prue Scott

Inside look at the production of injection mould manufacturing