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

Final Report Summary - POLYTUBES (A Process Chain and Equipment for Volume Production of Polymeric Microtubular Components for Medical Device Applications)

Executive summary:

POLYTUBES is a three-year project granted for the call NMP-2008-3.5-1: Volume production process chains for high throughput micromanufacturing. The consortium is built up of 16 partners from nine European countries. The participating organisations are 10 Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), three institutes, and three universities. The project has resulted in new knowledge, machinery and product demonstrators/prototypes. 22 exploitable results were identified. One patent application was filed and one spin off company was founded.

Project context and objectives:

Uses of innovative polymer microtubular components render opportunities to innovate the product design to meet new social and economical needs. Potential applications include specially shaped functional components for an instrument innovated by the POLYTUBES consortium for electrophysiological study on human sperms, heat transfer structural and functional parts for micro-heat-exchangers, parts for capillary electrochromatography, etc. Besides efforts to ensure functional realisation of the innovative products which use polymer microtubular components, manufacturing challenges must be met to produce sophisticated microgeometrical features of the components with an efficiency which is economically viable.

The overall objective of the POLYTUBES project (please see online) is to develop a process chain and corresponding micro-manufacturing platform for the manufacture of polymer-micro-tubes and tubular micro-components for innovative products (medical and non-medical applications). It aims to create new markets for European Union (EU) SMEs with innovative and economically competitive micro-products and micro-manufacturing equipment to meet the needs for a wide range of emerging applications. The development should also support the SMEs to increase business opportunities with new volume production capabilities in micro-manufacturing. The development could place EU in a pole position in the manufacture and innovative applications of micro-tubular products.

Project results:

The work performed:

Over the 36 month period that the project has been running, the work has focused on: Product designs for mass production of polymer micro-tubes and tubular micro-components, Design, manufacture and evaluation of the first and second functional prototypes, Manufacturing systems and platform design for volume production of polymer micro-tubes and tubular micro-components, Process transfer strategy (maturity model), Process optimisation/customisation for product development, Micro-tooling for manufacture of tubular components, Polymer micro-tubes manufacturing system, Polymer micro-tube shaping machine system, Polymer micro-tube rolling machine system, Polymer micro-tube expansion/inflation machine, Laser sizing, trimming, drilling systems system, Online product inspection system, Integration of the machine systems on a common platform, Web-based collaboration platform, project website, development of specification for e-tool for manufacturing information capture and assessment, Monitoring of technology development and market, dissemination of the project information.

Potential impact:

The results of the project show that establishing a production facility for polymeric microtubular components can be done without further delay. One of the demonstrators, which is in the process of being comerciallised is the patch clamp device for capture of human sperms. This could greatly improve the efficiency and reduce the costs related to in vitro fertilisation. During the second half of the project, the dissemination activities were greatly intensified. For example: During the last 18 months of the project, six newsletters were sent by email to a substantial list of recipients which was compiled by the partners of the consortium. A promotional brochure and poster was printed and exhibited at a number of events, and a promotional video was premiered at the Hannover Messe in April 2012.

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