Plastics hold key to affordable healthcare in emerging markets

By Stephen Moore
Published: March 25th, 2011

Multimillion-dollar CT scan and MRI equipment play a key role in the world-class healthcare typically enjoyed by citizens residing in developed economies, but when it comes to deploying the same technologies in emerging markets, every little bit of cost that can be saved could make such equipment more accessible to more people. To this end, plastics definitely have a key role to play.

This was highlighted in a presentation by Jayashree Satagopan, general manager of Global Sourcing South Asian at GE Healthcare (Bangalore, India), at the recent Precision Engineering Business Forum held alongside the MTA 2011 show in Singapore.

Initially, efforts at GE Healthcare focused on simplifying metal fabrication processes to reduce costs, for example using sheet fabrication instead of casting for an MRI unit gantry. Another example of cost reduction is the use of turret punching instead of laser cutting for generator covers. But Satagopan noted that plastic materials and technologies such as injection molding and thermoforming are where a lot of cost-cutting opportunities await. “Even at annual production volumes of 3000-4000 units, we can still consider injection and RIM as viable processes,” says Satagopan.

One case study simulated by GE Healthcare showed a potential saving of 60% by switching from a composite MRI cradle to a thermoformed version. Similarly, the medical device manufacturer has demonstrated that switching from metal fabrication to blow molding for an MRI arm board bumper could bring about significant savings.

Satagopan also notes that the medical device industry’s conservative nature and the extended periods required for raw material qualification can prove detrimental to potential cost cutting efforts. If a certain polycarbonate or polypropylene grade from a certain manufacturer is certified and has traditionally been used, it can be hard to switch to an equivalent grade from another supplier, even if the cost saving can amount to 40% in some cases. “[The resistance] is particularly high in the case of high-voltage applications [like MRI],” she notes.

In summary, Satagopan stated that the ultimate objective of GE Healthcare’s development efforts in India was to provide healthcare to all at an affordable cost in emerging markets.

Source: Plastics Today

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