If you open your cell phone, you won't find screws holding things together. There are about a dozen tiny pieces of adhesive materials doing the job.
It's a manufacturing phenomenon known as "lightweighting" - making products ranging from automobiles to medical devices lighter, less expensive and more visually appealing.
Adhesives are now widely used in medical products ranging from wheelchair cushions and surgical drapes to respirators and insulin pumps. The Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) expos draw thousands of attendees each year. The next one is in New York City from June 12-14, and it brings together many industry experts in adhesives, coatings and sealants. In addition to familiar names like Medtronic, attendees will also include many newcomers to the medical product space like Google and Apple.
Locally, Can-Do National Tape is a major supplier of adhesive solutions for the medical field. The company, founded in 1972, gets large rolls of adhesive materials from manufacturers (like 3M, Bemis, Avery Dennison, Tesa and Berry), then slits and die-cuts the material to make a wide variety of products: bed coverings, curtains, sensors, gaskets for infusion pumps, and much more. The company is also laminating adhesive materials to be used in tiny boots that monitor newborn babies.
Can-Do National Tape has about 70 employees in Nashville with a combined 200 years of adhesive tape experience. The company meets all the rigorous quality metrics required in the medical field, including ISO 9001:2008 certification.
"Adhesives offer many advantages over screws and rivets for medical applications," explained Rick Winkel, president of Can-Do. "They lower the cost of medical devices and make them easier to assemble. A typical medical device touch-screen is a lamination of film and adhesive. Our company works closely with design engineers at the medical device companies to achieve various objectives, like making a product waterproof or FDA-approved for direct skin contact."
Adhesives also make medical products stronger and safer. "Infusion pumps usually have electrically conducted tape or gasketing to keep them properly sealed," said Winkel. Adhesive materials also enable manufacturers to securely adhere dissimilar materials that can't be welded - such as lightweight aluminum and plastics.
Tape converting companies like Can-Do are known for their engineering precision. For example, the small piece of gauze in a wound care product doesn't get there in some haphazard fashion. It's carefully positioned in a procedure that tape converters call "island placement."
The size of the medical device market now exceeds $150 billion annually - and adhesives are a key part of that revenue. The Adhesive & Sealant Council hosted its "Tape Summit" last month in Minneapolis, which was heavily attended by medical device makers.
Because medical device technology is changing so rapidly, the Medical Device Manufacturing Association - the industry's advocacy group in Washington, D.C. - publishes nine magazines about the latest breakthroughs. Its publication Today's Medical Developments features regular updates about how sealants and adhesives are revolutionizing device design.
"We produce a lot of adhesive and non-adhesive products for multiple industries," said Winkel. "But it's especially gratifying to know that our solutions are helping make medical products safer, less expensive and easier to assemble."