For years, injection molding has been used extensively in medical device manufacturing, but not without certain challenges. The FDA's framework for process validation requires that all medical production processes are extremely reliable and consistent. Some products require a cleanroom environment during manufacturing. New tooling is constantly being developed to improve process efficiency and reduce overall costs.
Up to now, the primary way to power injection molding machines for medical device manufacturing has been with hydraulics. However, hybrid devices, machines that use both electric and hydraulic components, are now making their way into the market as a solid alternative to hydraulic injection molding machines.
While hydraulics have exceptional clamping force and are familiar to most everyone in medical device manufacturing, they are increasingly unable to meet some of today's strict processing requirements.
Hydraulic equipment has many parts that rely on hydraulic fluid for movement, both of which can create variables in temperature, pressure and other factors that cause them to function inconsistently at times. Creating medical tools requires extremely high-precision, so inconsistency in machine operations can lead to errors in finished products.
The oil used in hydraulics often leaks into the air as a fine mist which can contaminate medical products being produced in a cleanroom environment. They also have a long start-up time before they're ready to create products to spec.
Finally, hydraulic injection machines have less-than-optimum energy efficiency, which can greatly increase the overall cost of manufacturing.
Hybrid molding machines combine the energy savings and accuracy of electric molders with the force-generating capacities of a hydraulic unit to improve injection rates and maintain high output productivity all in one very compact, operator-friendly device.
Initial hybrid models were designed to reduce the unit's energy consumption by changing the screw rotation process from hydraulic to electric. However, hybrid molders now are configured with an ever-increasing variety of both electric and hydraulic functions to make them even more efficient for medical device manufacturing.
Early versions were created with clamps that used an electric traverse in tandem with a self-contained hydraulic system to apply required clamping pressure. Today's hybrids have replaced fixed-speed DC pump motors with variable-speed AC drives so the pump only operates when required and will push out only the necessary amount of oil for process efficiency. The result is a machine that uses 55 percent less oil, expends 40 percent less energy and is up to 50 percent faster than a conventional hydraulic machine.
Modern hybrid devices often require less maintenance and experience less down time than either an all-hydraulic or all-electric molding machine. What's more, a hybrid's price point falls nicely between these two types of molders, making it an increasingly affordable option for medical device manufacturers.
Hydraulics have been around a long time and are still very effective for producing medical devices that meet today's standards. However, manufacturers are under more pressure than ever to produce exceptional devices quickly at lower costs, and this has opened the door for hybrid injection molding machines to have an ever-increasing role in medical device manufacturing.
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