Materials offer a key to innovative home-health applications

This article was originally published by Robert Grace on Core77.

Consumers are increasingly being expected to have a greater role in "healing thyself." Shorter hospital stays, fewer instances of clinician-administered medication, and more do-it-yourself cases of in-home care drive the need for innovative home-healthcare devices. The implications are many – not only for sis, dad and grandma – but also for healthcare brand owners, pharmaceutical packaging producers, medical device designers and related materials suppliers.

For starters, such devices need to be on-trend, consumer-friendly, easy to use, and durable. Safety concerns, of course, are paramount. Some drugs previously delivered only by trained professionals in monitored, medical facilities now are being self-administered by non-medical personnel in home settings. It's important to maintain safe medical-delivery practices, and product designers use their expertise to help address these concerns.


"Materials are huge drivers to what is becoming a major factor in healthcare, which is the focus on products that are integrated into a patient's lifestyle rather than being hidden away," notes Chris Lefteri, a London-based designer and materials expert. "Materials in general, but in particular polycarbonate (PC), can address the needs for toughness, for increased mobility and reduced weight, decoration and light-transmission for integrating lighting technologies."

With a growing portfolio of medical-grade resins and a wealth of healthcare device experience, Covestro is particularly well placed to offer advice and guidance about its offerings to designers and brand owners alike through the sometimes intimidating maze of medical standards, protocols and material selection requirements. After all, when a patient needs life-saving medical treatment, well-designed devices made with the right materials, and used as directed by the manufacturer or healthcare provider, can be used to mitigate or eliminate serious health complications.

Materials companies such as Covestro also are taking this challenge seriously, and developing advanced plastic resins that can meet all the necessary performance parameters in terms of biocompatibility, chemical resistance, sterilization, flammability ratings, durability and the like, while enabling innovation.

New packaging concepts for drug delivery: As healthcare becomes more dependent on self-medication, Covestro has explored how Makrolon® can be used to create packaging more focused on patients' lifestyles, taking advantage of its durability and potential for reuse. (Illustration courtesy of Chris Lefteri Design)

Let's look at a couple products and medical devices that reflect current home healthcare trends:

The smartphone-based Vital Moto Mod can monitor 5 vital signs in minutes. (Photo courtesy of Vital USA Inc.)

At the CES 2018 show in January, Los Angeles-based Vital USA Inc. launched, in partnership with Lenovo and Motorola, what it calls the "first connected, integrated, multi-vital-sign monitoring platform that you can operate through a simple app on your phone." The Vital Moto Mod snaps on to any of Motorola's Moto Z Android smartphones and connects via WiFi or Bluetooth to the Internet. With a durable case made of a polycarbonate/ABS resin blend, the device incorporates an inflatable, silicone finger cuff into which users insert the index finger on their left hand.

Within two to three minutes the device can accurately measure five vital signs – temperature, pulse, respiratory rate, blood oxygen level and blood pressure. It saves the data, and uploads it to the cloud, creating a sharable history of measurements.

The second-generation OrCam artificial vision device aims to bring new freedom to the visually impaired. (Photo courtesy of OrCam Technologies Ltd.)

Jerusalem, Israel-based OrCam Technologies Ltd., meanwhile, recently rolled out its second-generation OrCam MyEye 2.0 artificial vision device, designed to help visually impaired, blind or individuals with reading difficulties. The size of a finger and weighing just 0.8 ounces, the device snaps on to the temple of your glasses. A tiny camera inside scans text it is pointed at – be it a newspaper, a computer screen, a product label, money notes, etc. – and instantly reads the text out loud to the wearer.

While diverse and different products, these share some common elements – they involve complex engineering, in small form factors, with miniaturized components, and all connect to the Internet in one way or another. (OrCam MyEye 2.0's proprietary algorithms work independently offline – without any data or subscription fees, connectivity lapses, or privacy concerns. Wi-Fi connectivity only comes into play for software updates.) They need to be lightweight, durable and impact resistant.


Adoption of connected health wearable devices is growing fast. The housings of such devices need to be friendly to the skin, durable and able to withstand exposure to everyday chemicals such as sunscreen, hand lotions, and the like, noted Lauren Zetts, the firm's Pittsburgh, PA-based healthcare market manager for North America. Makroblend® M525 from Covestro fits the bill as a grade with skin-contact biocompatibility that also provides exceptional low-temperature impact strength, good flowability and excellent chemical resistance.

Another Covestro material – Makroblend® M4000 FR – is helping medical device makers to meet the flame retardancy and chemical resistance requirements that are vital when selecting a material to use in medical equipment housings. This grade offers flame retardancy of V-0 at 2.0 mm and 5VA at 3.0 mm, is appropriate for skin-contact applications, and meets key ISO biocompatibility standards. It also provides high toughness, resistance to stress cracking, good flowability and high tensile modulus.

Merz's Cellfina device (Photo courtesy of Merz Pharma)

As a result, Merz Pharma GmbH & Co. KGAA, a Frankfurt, Germany-based global aesthetics and neurotoxin company, selected Makroblend® M4000 FR for the housing of the motor module of its Cellfina® System, which is the only FDA-cleared, minimally invasive procedure shown to improve the appearance of cellulite for up to three years. The Cellfina® System also uses the biocompatible Makrolon® 2458 in the sterilized disposable parts used with the system.

Other medical devices are tackling challenges head-on. Biologic drugs – derived from a microorganism, or plant or animal cells – are increasingly popular for treating rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer and other diseases. Biologics are difficult to form into solids or capsules and so usually are injected or infused, which can require inconvenient visits to specialty healthcare facilities or painful self-injections for patients.

Enable Injections' on-body drug-delivery device features polycarbonate components injection molded using Covestro materials. (Photo courtesy of Enable Injections Inc.)

Enable Injections Inc. has developed a disposable, on-body, drug-delivery device that allows patients to comfortably self-administer high-volume and/or high-viscosity therapeutics. Components of the Enable device are injection molded with polycarbonate materials from Covestro.

The housing of the on-body device features Makrolon® Rx1805 polycarbonate – a workhorse medical-grade resin – in a purple tint. The device's transfer system, which allows the patient to easily transfer the biologic drug from its original container to the Enable on-body delivery device, features Bayblend® M850 XF of Covestro.

One of the most recent innovations of Covestro is the recent introduction of its next-generation, medical-grade PC, called Makrolon® Rx3440, said Zetts.

Designed for use in luers and other intravenous connectors, the new grade offers superior durability and chemical resistance to the aggressive solvents found in oncology drugs and other treatments. This helps to prevent cracking so that healthcare professionals can more safely deliver oncology drugs to patients. Makrolon® Rx3440 also offers biocompatibility; greater structural integrity to allow for thin-walled designs; toughness to resist mishandling; and dimensional stability in shipping and storage, Zetts added. (See brief clip here)

Robert Grace is a freelance journalist based in Florida. He was the founding editor of Plastics News in 1989 and headed that weekly newspaper’s editorial operations.

Bayblend®, Makroblend® and Makrolon® are registered trademarks of the Covestro group.

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