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Thermal Bonding Device Passes Balloon Catheters Test

Originally Published MPMN June 2002

PROFILE

Thermal Bonding Device Passes Balloon Catheters Test

Process offers consistent, repeatable results

The Split Die Thermal Bonder from Beahm Designs applies uniform heat and compression in a range of thermal bonding and modification processes.

Radio-frequency die bonding is a proven process for bonding urethane balloons to catheter shafts, but it comes with a significant price tag. Seeking a cost-effective alternative, a supplier of polyester heat-shrink tubing and related products and services investigated several options. All except one—a thermal bonding process using a split-die machine—involved unacceptable tradeoffs, according to Mike Barbere, assembly engineering manager at Advanced Polymers Inc. (API; Salem, NH; www.advpoly.com).

API produces a range of thin-wall heat-shrink tubing as well as high-pressure angioplasty and elastomeric balloons, custom catheter assemblies, and custom extruded tubing. It has developed a proprietary process to manufacture thin-wall polyester heat-shrink tubing that exhibits high tensile strength, even with walls as thin as 0.0002 in., and a smooth glasslike finish. Because of the wall thinness, rapid shrinkage and heat transfer to the parts to be fused occur during processing. In addition to a uniform compression force in the radial direction, the tubing's longitudinal shrinkage prompts linear compression of adjacent tubes.

In its search for effective alternative bonding methods, API first looked at adhesives, but they "only worked at very low pressure," says Barbere. "Although we got adhesion, the necks of the balloons would stretch as the pressure grew." The peel force was too great, preventing the adhesive from holding the neck in place.

The company had tried using thermal bonding with its polyester heat-shrink tubing in the past, but the process lacked repeatability. "The bonds were glass smooth," recalls Barbere, "and they were incredibly strong." However, it was not a simple process to direct and control the hot air, leading to unpredictable results. "Sometimes the balloon, which is sensitive to heat, would get distorted. It took a great deal of skill and luck to produce an acceptable part each time," says Barbere. Beahm Designs (Los Gatos, CA; www.catheterequipment.com), a developer of catheter manufacturing equipment, felt that it had removed the alchemy from the operation with its Split Die Thermal Bonder. Company president Brian Beahm persuaded Barbere to take it on a test run.

The Heat Is On

The Split Die Thermal Bonder applies uniform heat and compression in a range of thermal bonding and modification processes. At the beginning of the cycle, the hinged dies are heated to a constant temperature that is controlled by a thermocouple feedback. The tubing and balloon are assembled over a PTFE mandrel, and the polyester shrink tubing is positioned over the bond area. The die halves are then closed around the shrink tubing, applying uniform heat to the component for a predetermined period of time.

Heating the bonding area by direct contact with the shrink tubing while using cooling air to protect the balloon enables the user to apply a constant compression force around the melted balloon neck and the shaft. This causes the materials to flow together into a single polymer structure and produces a smooth glasslike tapered finish at the bond area. After the process is complete, the shrink tubing is removed and discarded.

Equipment set-up proved to be remarkably easy, according to Barbere. "Once we made the first jaw modifications to accommodate the balloon necks, it was a matter of one day's worth of engineering work to establish parameters and evaluate the results. In just a few attempts, we had our first bonds." Evaluations were conducted by dissecting the bond areas and burst testing the balloons. The results, adds Barbere, were as good as the company's best efforts using other processes.

API has also begun to use the machine with its polyester heat-shrink tubing to make butt joints in single-lumen tubes. The device attaches soft-tip materials to catheter shafts and tapers tubing ends in a single operation.

With a temperature range from ambient to 525°F, the Split Die Thermal Bonder can process bond widths from 0.062 to ½ in. and tubing with diameters up to ½ in. Custom dies that can accommodate other widths and diameters are available on request.

API produces its polyester heat-shrink tubing in diameters ranging from 0.008 to 1 in. with wall thicknesses from 0.0002 to 0.004 in. Polyurethane and other balloons are available in custom and stock sizes.

Copyright ©2002 Medical Product Manufacturing News

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