Friday 1 August 2014

How plastics have transformed medical science

Wherever you are reading this blog, you are bound to be surrounded by items made from or at least containing plastic. Since their introduction in the early decades of the 20th century, these materials have had a transformative effect, completely changing the look and feel of the world around us. Many forms of plastic have become household names. For example, most people have heard of polyethylene, polyester, acrylic and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

One area in which plastics have had a particularly noteworthy impact is medical science. These materials are used in myriad ways across the healthcare industry, from lab research to patient care.


It’s little wonder that medical and pharmaceutical companies have turned to plastics. After all, these materials possess a variety of attractive properties. For example, plastics have a relatively low density, meaning they are lightweight. Despite this fact, they can be extremely strong. In addition, the materials offer excellent thermal and electrical insulation and they are corrosion resistant to many substances that can harm other materials.

Plastics are easy to shape too, making them ideal for the manufacturing process. Furthermore, they can be treated to display a range of visual qualities. Depending on the requirements of manufacturers, they can be transformed into different colours or made transparent. They are also often cheaper than alternative materials.

When selecting plastics, medical and pharmaceutical firms can opt for versions that exhibit the perfect traits for the particular uses they have in mind. For example, high density polythene is hard, stiff and able to be sterilised, making it ideal for plastic bottles and tubing. Meanwhile, polypropylene is light, tough and has good resistance to chemicals. These characteristics make it a popular choice for medical and laboratory equipment. PVC is another favourite among healthcare companies. This is seen as a safe and cost effective material for a range of packaging solutions.


There are too many uses of plastics in the medical sector to list here, but some of the most important include intravenous bags, surgical gloves, tubing, syringes, petri dishes and bottles. The materials also make up key components in a range of prosthetic devices and they can be utilised as artificial hips and knees. Other common uses include braces, glasses frames and contact lenses.

Additionally, plastics are used to create sealed, tamper-evident packaging and to produce child-resistant caps for medicines.

Much of the complex equipment now used in labs and medical units, such as MRI machines and defibrillators, are crafted using plastics too.

An immeasurable contribution

In an article entitled ‘Plastics - No Need To Apologise’, which was featured in the Trends in Polymer Science journal, chemistry expert Norman Billingham summed up the vital role that plastics have played in the field of healthcare. He remarked: “From packaging materials, through fibres, foams and surface coatings, to continuous extrusions and large-scale mouldings, plastics have transformed almost every aspect of life. Without them, much of modern medicine would be impossible.”

He added: “Plastic sewage and water pipes alone have made an immeasurable contribution to public health worldwide.”

Looking to the future

Plastics are certainly here to stay. Their impressive qualities are simply irresistible to designers and manufacturers operating in the medical and pharmaceutical industries. As organisations continue to find new ways to harness the power of plastics, we can look forward to evermore advanced and interesting uses of the materials.

When companies are on the lookout for plastics, they can now turn to top-quality providers such as  A.I. International.

Posted by Tim Sandle

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