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A Process Chain and Equipment for Volume Production of Polymeric Microtubular Components for Medical Device Applications

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High-volume production of small-diameter tubes

Small tubes made from polymers are relevant to applications for medical testing and diagnostics to optical communications. Innovative technology for high-volume, cost-effective production should enhance product and market development.

Industrial Technologies

Microtubes made of polymers, among which perhaps capillary tubes are best known, are widely used in a number of fields. These small, hollow, cylindrical structures are used in medical applications, optics, communications and many more areas. A European consortium initiated the Polytubes project to develop a process chain overcoming current micro-manufacturing challenges to ensure functional realisation of innovative products. Scientists focused on creating new markets for European small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). With development of high-volume manufacturing capabilities, the consortium sought to deliver economically competitive and high-performance micro-manufacturing processes and products for a wide range of emerging applications. Manufacturing-focused activities included development of polymer microtube shaping and rolling equipment, a polymer microtube expansion/inflation machine, laser forming systems and an online product inspection system. All manufacturing technology was integrated into a common platform and specifications for an e-tool to capture and analyse manufacturing information were defined. The Polytubes consortium also optimised and customised processes for product development and successfully designed, manufactured and evaluated first and second functional prototypes. One demonstrator in the pipeline for commercialisation is used for human sperm capture and promises to significantly enhance efficiency while reducing the cost of in vitro fertilisation. Polytubes results establish the technological readiness for volume production of polymeric microtubular components. European SMEs stand to benefit tremendously from technology and prototype products ready for market penetration

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