High-Performance Plastics for Life Science, Medical and Analytical Equipment Applications

High-performance thermoplastic materials bring a number of benefits to components and devices used in the diverse field of life sciences, medical and analytical laboratory equipment. Different categories of thermoplastics serve these widely varied applications. One category of materials comprises plastics that provide specific functional qualities for components that are contained within equipment or devices and have no direct human contact. Drake Plastics offers an impressive portfolio of ultra high-performance thermoplastics for these uses. They include several grades of Victrex® PEEK (polyetheretherketone), Solvay’s KetaSpire®PEEK, Torlon® PAI (polyamide-imide), AvaSpire® PAEK (polyaryletherketone) and Ryton® PPS (polyphenylene sulfide),as well as Sabic’s Ultem™ PEI (polyether-imide). These materials offer various combinations of high strength at temperature extremes, long-term wear resistance under dynamic load – in many cases without external lubrication, the ability to withstand aggressive chemicals, and excellent electrical properties. Victrex PEEK and KetaSpire PEEK, AvaSpire PAEK and Ultem PEI also exhibit remarkable resistance to extended exposure to steam and hot water.

Another group of thermoplastics used in medical and life science applications falls under the term biocompatible materials. They fulfill stringent requirements for both implantable and non-implantable devices and components that have direct contact with the human body. These materials must adhere to rigorous compliance measures and certifications for their intended uses. Accordingly, Drake restricts activity in biocompatible and human implant materials including Solvay’s Zeniva PEEK and others to a dedicated operation that has the industry experience, knowledge, quality systems and procedures tailored to these specialized thermoplastics.

Standard High-Performance Thermoplastics in Non-Contact Applications

The functional benefits of Drake Plastics’ standard high-performance polymer materials include resistance to a wide range of chemicals, high strength and toughness even at temperature extremes, and electrical and thermal insulation and isolation properties. These thermoplastics also exhibit exceptional wear resistance for load-bearing components and moving parts such as gears, rollers, bearings, and bushings. They are used internally in many medical and analytical equipment applications where they are not exposed to bodily contact.  For example, Drake Plastics machines its Torlon 4203 PAI (polyamide-imide) Seamless Tube® into highly wear-resistant rollers that provide long life in peristaltic pumps. Torlon 4275 PAI also affords long-term wear-resistance, high strength and the ability to maintain precise dimensions under temperature fluctuations in internal bushings used in prosthetics.

PEEK, recognized for its combination of strength, wear resistance and inertness in a vast number of chemicals, also serves many functional applications in medical, analytical and life-science equipment. Drake Plastics supplies various grades of Victrex® PEEK and Solvay’s KetaSpire® PEEK as extruded machinable shapes and machined and injection-molded components for these uses. Precision-machined bearings made from Drake’s 450FC30 PEEK rod combine high rigidity and lubrication-free wear-resistance for long term reliability in high-speed electric motors that power micro-surgery instruments. The application also serves to highlight the electrical properties typical of many Drake high-performance thermoplastics, an advantage behind their use in applications where electrical insulation and thermal isolation is important.

Drake extrudes Solvay’s high-temperature KetaSpire KT820 NT PEEK into rod, then machines precision-tolerance spacers that insulate and seal electrical components in electric motors contained within surgical apparatus.

High Temperature KetaSpire PEEK extends the inherent wear-resistance, chemical inertness and high strength of this high-performance polymer family into applications requiring a step up in thermal properties beyond what standard PEEK grades such as KetaSpire KT-820 and Victrex 450G can handle. High Temperature PEEK is available from Drake Plastics as stock shapes and precision-machined and injection-molded components. It also features higher strength compared to standard PEEK formulations.

Because of their exceptional chemical resistance and dimensional stability under temperature variations, Torlon PAI, PEEK, High Temp PEEK, Ultem PEI, Ryton R-4 PPS and AvaSpire PAEK are also specified for internal components in analytical equipment used in the life science field. Drake Plastics offers its array of materials as stock shapes and precision CNC-machined and injection molded parts to satisfy the diverse performance requirements of these applications effectively and efficiently.

Drake Plastics is a recognized specialist in ultra high-performance polymers. Our decades of collaborative experience has helped engineers develop material selection and parts production solutions to numerous aircraft application challenges such as these.

Typical Applications: High-Performance Thermoplastics for Non-Body Contact Components

  • Rollers in peristaltic pumps rely on high strength Torlon 4203 PAI for extended wear-resistance and long service life.
  • Bearings used in micro-surgery instrument motors are machined from Drake’s 30% carbon fiber-reinforced PEEK 450FC30 rod for lubrication-free operation in these high-speed tools.
  • Rotors and stators for HPLC (high-pressure liquid chromatography) equipment are injection molded in carbon-fiber PEEK for its chemical inertness and strength.
  • Electrical spacers in surgical tool motors are machined from Drake’s Victrex KT820 NT PEEK rod. They provide insulation and sealing properties for the internal components.
  • Prosthetic device bushings made from Drake’s Torlon 4301 PAI Seamless Tube® provide precision tolerances and wear resistance for internal components under dynamic load. Seamless Tube also reduces machining time and material loss vs. solid rod.
  • Bearing cages used in high-speed dental drill motors rely on Torlon 4301 PAI and Torlon 4275 PAI for long service .
  • Vacuum barrier stems for pharmaceutical bottle filling take advantage of PEEK’s chemical inertness, steam and hot water resistance and regulatory compliance for handling ingestibles.
  • Analytical equipment components including fittings, valves, manifolds, seals, and ferrules are made from PEEK, Ryton PPS and AvaSpire PAEK for high strength and chemical inertness.
  • High-speed robotic surgical tool bushings precision-machined from 30% carbon-fiber reinforced PEEK 450FC30 afford the strength and wear-resistance essential for reliable long-term performance.

Biocompatible Materials for Medical and Life Science Applications

High-performance biocompatible thermoplastics for use in applications that come in contact with the human body fall into categories typically designated as non-implantable and implantable materials.

Some of the polymer families that Drake Plastics routinely extrudes, machines and injection molds include resins designated by the manufacturers as medical and biocompatible grades to serve these applications. Most notable are specific grades of Victrex and Solvay’s KetaSpire PEEK, Sabic’s Ultem PEI, and Solvay’s AvaSpire PAEK. However, for use in bodily contact applications, these medical grades must adhere to  justifiably strict industry compliance standards and quality procedures. To ensure the level of conformity required, Drake Plastics defers these applications to operations fully dedicated to biocompatible materials and applications.

PEEK (polyetheretherketone)

PEEK (polyetheretherketone) ranks as the most prominent biocompatible materials family among high-performance thermoplastics. It stands apart from other biocompatible materials in its use for implantable medical applications in addition to general medical devices and equipment components.

Because of its high molecular weight and melt strength, PEEK lends itself to extrusion into stock shapes even in large cross sections. Biocompatible PEEK grades both for general medical applications and for human implantation are typically extruded into stock shapes in the form of rods, plates and tubes, then precision-machined into components for use in many different types of devices and equipment.

The physical properties of PEEK make it an excellent choice for many applications that also require biocompatibility. Its inherent features include wear resistance, toughness, rigidity, and inertness to a vast range of chemicals as well as hot water and steam. With a Tg (glass transition temperature) of 289°F (143°C) and a heat deflection temperature of 306°F (152°C), it retains its strength at thermal extremes. PEEK also holds precise dimensions over wide temperature variations.

PEEK applications in life sciences range from medical devices and re-usable instruments that see repeated autoclave cycles to numerous implantable components used in such fields as spinal, coronary and orthopedic medicine.

Ultem™ PEI (polyetherimide)

With its excellent resistance to hot water and steam, Ultem PEI can withstand repeated steam autoclave cycles and maintain its strength in high temperature environments up to 340°F (170°C). It also has excellent chemical resistance. These attributes lead to its use for reusable medical devices and surgical instruments that require repeated steam sterilization. Its solid electrical properties also make it a good choice for insulating components in laboratory equipment.

AvaSpire® PAEK (polyaryletherketone)

Solvay’s AvaSpire® PAEK is often considered an alternative to PEEK in non-implantable components where the latter’s levels of chemical and thermal resistance are not essential. Like PEEK and Ultem PEI, AvaSpire PAEK has the toughness and resistance to chemicals, steam and hot water to make it a candidate for multi-use surgical instruments that see repeated sterilization cycles. Typical applications include handles, knobs, grips, retractors and instrument trays.

Performance Additives

A major advantage of ultra high-performance thermoplastics over other material forms is their ability to uniformly incorporate performance-enhancing additives as they are being processed by the resin manufacturers. Examples include formulations with improved wear resistance for internal moving parts.  Carbon fiber reinforcement also affords higher levels of strength, an advantage for surgical tool handles,  probes and extractors. The fiber reinforcement in medical grades also has no detrimental effect on the materials’ inherent resistance to chemicals and repeated steam sterilization.

With their growing list of application successes, Torlon PAI, PEEK, Ryton R-4 PPS, high temperature PEEK HT and Ultem PEI are proving their value as light weight and dependable high-performance materials for spacecraft components. Drake Plastics’ comprehensive family of light weight polymer materials provides engineers with the ability to choose the optimal combination of strength, stability, bearing and wear properties and chemical and temperature resistance best suited to their application requirements. In particular, the toughness of Torlon PAI and PEEK polymers at cryogenic temperatures, coupled with their low outgassing qualities and resistance to property degradation from exposure to high levels of radiation, has already made them the preferred materials for a wide variety of aerospace components.

Typical Applications: High-Performance Biocompatible Thermoplastics

  • General medical applications
    • Repeat-use surgical instruments made from Ultem PEI, Victrex and Solvay KetaSpire PEEK and AvaSpire PAEK exhibit long life thorough multiple steam sterilization cycles.
    • Probes and extractors rely on carbon-fiber reinforced grades of PEEK and PAEK for high rigidity, stability and longevity through multiple sterilization cycles.
  • Implantable PEEK such as Zeniva ZA-500 and Victrex’s Invibio:
    • Spinal implants
    • Cardiovascular surgical devices
    • Joint replacement components
    • Implantable suture anchors
    • Trauma fixation components in carbon-fiber reinforced PEEK

Precision-Machining Biocompatible Materials for Medical and Life-Science Industry Clients

Because of our recognized rigid quality management procedures including traceability and conformance documentation, Drake Plastics is frequently tapped as a source for components used in many medical applications requiring biocompatibility. In these cases, clients provide their biocompatible stock shapes for machining or resin compounds for injection molding into finished parts. A notable example involves Drake Plastics’ precision-machining implantable suture anchors for a client who supplies its own stock shapes made from Victrex LLC’s biocompatible Invibioâ PEEK.