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How to choose materials for manufacturing medical tech

When producing custom medical devices, selecting the right material is crucial. Find out about common materials used in healthcare technologies and important considerations for medical device manufacturing.

Plastic materials

Innovative medical technology leads to improved diagnostics, treatments, and patient care. Achieving these cutting-edge innovations, however, requires the right material. In this article, we will examine materials used to create medical tech, focusing predominantly on the R&D stage. Some of the applications mentioned here require medical-grade (FDA-approved) materials, some of which are available via Protolabs. 

What is medical tech?

 Medical tech includes imaging systems, medical devices, wearable devices, and medical robotics, among other technologies, aimed at improving healthcare delivery and patient outcomes through the application of technology in the healthcare field. 


What materials are commonly used to manufacture medical technology?

  • Metals. Stainless steel, aluminum, titanium, and various alloys are often used for structural components, frames, and mechanical parts due to their strength, durability, and machinability.

  • Plastics. Different types of plastics, including thermoplastics and thermosetting plastics, are commonly used in medical tech for their versatility, lightweight nature, and ease of manufacturing. Plastics can be used for enclosures, casings, handles, and certain components.

  • Composites. Carbon fiber composites, fiberglass or polymer-matrix composites are strong and lightweight for enhanced functionality.

What manufacturing methods are used to create medical tech?

The manufacturing method that is best suited for specific medical tech will vary based on factors such as design complexity, desired material properties, production volume, and cost considerations. Here are a few of the most common methods that Protolabs Network customers use.

What materials are used to create medical tech with CNC machining?

 The following materials are commonly used to create medical tech with CNC machining. 

  • Stainless steel. High-strength material with excellent corrosion resistance for surgical instruments and implantable devices.

  • Titanium. Lightweight and biocompatible material for orthopedic implants and dental prosthetics.

  • PEEK (Polyether Ether Ketone). Biocompatible polymer with high chemical resistance for spinal implants and dental components.

  • Aluminum. Lightweight and corrosion-resistant material for medical equipment housings and structural components.

  • ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). Durable and impact-resistant polymer for medical device prototypes and casings.


What materials are used to create medical tech with injection molding?

 The following materials are commonly used to create medical tech with injection molding. 

  • Polycarbonate (PC). Transparent and impact-resistant material for medical device housings and fluid containers.

  • Polypropylene (PP). Chemically resistant and flexible material for syringes, IV components, and laboratory consumables. Can be sterilized using various methods.

  • Liquid Silicone Rubber (LSR). Biocompatible elastomer for medical seals, gaskets, and soft-touch components.

  • Polyethylene (PE). Lightweight and sterilizable material for packaging, tubes, and connectors in medical applications.

  • Polystyrene (PS). Clear and rigid material for medical labware, diagnostic devices, and disposable items.


What materials are used to create medical tech with 3D printing?

 The following materials are commonly used to create medical tech with 3D printing. 

  • PLA (Polylactic Acid). Biodegradable and easy-to-print material for surgical models and temporary implants.

  • Nylon. Durable and flexible material for custom prosthetics, braces, and patient-specific surgical guides.

  • Resin (Photopolymer). High-resolution and biocompatible material for dental models and hearing aid shells.

  • TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane). Flexible and elastic material for wearable medical devices and prosthetic components.

  • PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol). Water-soluble support material for complex 3D-printed structures in medical models and devices.


What properties should you consider when choosing a material to manufacture med tech?

By carefully considering these properties, you can choose materials that meet the specific needs, safety requirements, and performance criteria of the medical tech you are developing.

  • Biocompatibility. Consider the material's ability to interact safely with living tissues without causing adverse reactions or harm.

  • Sterilization compatibility. Evaluate if the material can withstand the chosen sterilization method without compromising its properties or safety.

  • Mechanical properties. Assess the material's strength, flexibility, and durability to ensure it can withstand intended mechanical stresses and forces.

  • Thermal properties. Assess the material's ability to withstand temperature variations, and thermal expansion, and maintain stability during sterilization processes or when exposed to heat sources.

  • Electrical properties. Consider electrical conductivity or insulation properties to prevent interference or electrical risks in medical tech applications.

  • Wear and friction. Consider the material's wear resistance, lubricity, and friction properties, especially if it will be in contact with other surfaces or moving parts.

  • Regulatory compliance. Ensure the material meets necessary standards and guidelines, such as FDA or ISO standards, to ensure safety and effectiveness in medical tech manufacturing and usage.


What manufacturing factors influence material selection for medical tech?

By considering these factors, you can make informed decisions regarding material selection for medical tech, ensuring optimal performance, regulatory compliance, cost-effectiveness, and successful manufacturing outcomes.

  • Functionality and performance. The material should be chosen based on its ability to meet the specific functional requirements of the project. It should exhibit the desired performance characteristics necessary for testing and validation purposes, allowing researchers to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of the technology.

  • Prototype iterations and customization. R&D for medical tech often involves rapid prototyping and iterative design processes. Materials suitable for R&D purposes should enable quick and efficient fabrication of prototypes, facilitate modifications, and allow for customization as the technology evolves during the research phase.

  • Cost and availability. Considering the cost and availability of materials is crucial, as researchers often work within limited budgets and timelines. Opting for readily available and cost-effective materials enables efficient experimentation and iteration without incurring excessive expenses.

  • Process compatibility. Material selection should consider the compatibility of the chosen materials with the available manufacturing processes, such as 3D printing, CNC machining, or hand fabrication techniques. The materials should be easily processable using the available resources and tools, especially in the R&D stage.

  • Future scalability and manufacturing considerations. While R&D in medical tech focuses on proof-of-concept and validation, it is beneficial to consider the potential future scalability and manufacturing aspects of the technology. Choosing materials that have a path to scalable manufacturing or are representative of those used in commercial production can facilitate a smoother transition from R&D to production.

To produce a part for a medical device, start by uploading a CAD file to receive an instant quote and automatic DFM analysis. 

You can also read more about how to manufacture medical devices. For further information or recommendations on materials with the right properties for your project, contact for assistance.

CNC machining, 3D printing and sheet metal fabrication parts

Frequently asked questions

What are the common materials used in medical tech?

Common materials used in medical tech include metals (such as stainless steel and titanium), polymers (like silicone and polyethylene), and composites.

What is biocompatibility in material selection?

Biocompatibility refers to a material's ability to safely interact with living tissues without causing harmful reactions or adverse effects.

What role does sterilization compatibility play in material selection?

Sterilization compatibility ensures that the material can withstand the chosen sterilization method without compromising its properties or safety.

Why are mechanical properties important in material selection?

Mechanical properties are important because they determine the material's strength, flexibility, and durability, ensuring it can withstand the intended mechanical stresses and forces.

Why is chemical resistance important in material selection?

Chemical resistance is important to ensure that the material can withstand exposure to cleaning agents, disinfectants, or fluids it may encounter during use without degradation.

What is the significance of considering electrical properties in material selection?

Considering electrical properties is important for components involving electrical conductivity or insulation to prevent interference or electrical risks in medical tech.

How does regulatory compliance impact material selection?

Regulatory compliance ensures that the material meets the necessary standards and guidelines to ensure safety and effectiveness in medical tech manufacturing.


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