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Articles from 2019 In July


Autonomous AI Device Receives Historic CPT Code

Autonomous AI Device Receives Historic CPT Code
IDx-DR, an FDA-cleared autonomous AI system that detects diabetic retinopathy. Image courtesy of IDx.

A major barrier to the widespread use of digital therapeutics (DTx) is the limitation or lack of reimbursement by public and private insurance providers, according to GlobalData. DTx can be used to prevent, manage, or treat diseases across diverse indications, particularly chronic conditions, such as diabetes, respiratory diseases, and mental health conditions and neurological disorders.

But such limitations could be changing soon because of a recent decision by the American Medical Association's (AMA) Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) Editorial Panel to create a Category 1 CPT code for retinal imaging with automated point-of-care, which includes IDx-DR, an FDA-cleared autonomous AI system that detects diabetic retinopathy without the need for physician interpretation. This new code, submitted by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, with the support of IDx, facilitates correct billing of IDx-DR.

CPT codes are reviewed and developed by clinician experts as part of a transparent and open process to provide a uniform language for submitting healthcare procedures and services for payor reimbursement. The new CPT code is scheduled to be effective in January 2021, and its description may be further refined prior to its implementation.

“I think it's historic because it's the first step in a process to lead to payments for autonomous AI in general,” said Michael Abramoff, MD, PhD, founder and CEO of IDx, in an interview with MD+DI. He explained that IDx was authorized by FDA in April of 2018, but because it was the first autonomous AI device, “nothing in the healthcare system, in terms of reimbursement, was prepared for it, because everything in that system is built around physicians and nurse practitioners making decisions. Autonomous AI makes the clinical decision by itself, so we had a giant hurdle to cross,” he said.

“Physicians are currently billing for IDx-DR using existing coding, but this new code will better capture the value of an AI making the diagnostic assessment, an important step in ensuring this technology reaches its full potential in prevent vision loss and blindness for people with diabetes,” Abramoff continued.

He said that he believes the CPT code applying to IDx-DR was created, in part because they were transparent and accountable about the risks and benefits in presenting the technology. “I think that makes a huge difference that we are not trying to slip in something and we're very open about it,” he said. “You need to be careful about risk—you must be open about it, you need to address it, and you need to take steps to mitigate it.”

This code could set the precedent for other autonomous AI technologies, Abramoff said, adding that people can now see the path to payment. “A path has been cleared for them. It’s very different if you know that something is possible, versus if you don’t even know where to begin.”

Milacron's Q2 results “in line with expectations,” said CEO Tom Goeke

Milacron's Q2 results “in line with expectations,” said CEO Tom Goeke

Milacron's (Cincinnati) Q2 results are “in line with our expectations,” said Tom Goeke, President and CEO, during the recent earnings call. Net sales for the quarter reached $271 million, a 9% sequential increase and 11% decrease versus the previous year. On these sales, the company generated 18.1% adjusted EBITDA margins, or $46.1 million.

Because the second quarter of 2018 was a record quarter for Milacron, it created a tough year-over-year comparison, noted Goeke. “As previously discussed, 2018 was best characterized as a tale of two halves, with very solid growth in the global economy during the first half of the year and headwinds in the second half that have carried into 2019,” he said. “We are pleased with the sequential improvements during Q2 2019 and are optimistic that the second half of 2019 will be in line with our expectations.”

From a regional perspective, orders in China increased in all three of Milacron’s business segments in Q2 2019, up 16% from Q1 2019 and up 9% from Q4 2018.  Sales activity is strong in Asia “and we are ready to meet customer demand as more projects are released,” said Goeke. 

Within the company’s Melt Delivery and Control Systems (MDCS) segment, Mold Masters saw increases in orders from Q1 2019 and Q4 2018 in nearly all of its end markets. Increases in electronics, medical and packaging were the most significant. MDCS’s second quarter sales were down 16%, and 13% on a constant currency basis, driven primarily by China, which is down versus the prior year, but up double digits sequentially, reported Milacron’s Bruce Chalmers. Automotive was strong, both versus prior year and sequentially, with electronics up over 50% sequentially and over 30% versus Q4 2018. MDCS generated adjusted EBITDA of $29 million in the quarter, a 28.3% margin.

The Advanced Plastic Processing Technologies (APPT) segment has a backlog of $145 million with “exceptional orders for our min-tonnage products through the end of 2019, and strong activity in the sales pipeline for small tonnage product, as well as in the aftermarket with retrofits and rebuilds. Sales were $138 million in the second quarter; constant currency revenue growth was negative 4%, but the company had 1% sales growth on a pro forma basis.

Chalmers reminded attendees that Milacron closed its European injection molding facility in Q4 2018, and divested its blowmolding business during Q1 2019. “North America continues to trend well with 30% sequential growth and 2% versus the prior year,” said Chalmers. “Adjusted EBITDA was $20 million or 14.3% of sales in the quarter. The team is diligently marching toward the 15% full year margin goal for APPT.”

While not taking any questions on the Hillenbrand transaction during the earnings call, Goeke mentioned that it "represents a unique opportunity for Milacron and provides our shareholders significant and immediate value as well as the ability to participate in the upside potential of the combination.” Milacron shareholders will receive $11.80 in cash and a fixed exchanged ratio of 0.1612 shares of Hillenbrand common stock for each share of Milacron common stock they own.

How NuVasive Is Keeping a 'Pulse' on a Competitive Market

MD+DI/Amanda Pedersen How NuVasive Is Keeping a 'Pulse' on a Competitive Market
During NuVasive's second-quarter earnings call, analysts prodded the company to talk about the increasing competitiveness of the spine surgical market.

NuVasive hit an important milestone in July with the FDA clearance and U.S. launch of its Pulse surgical automation platform, and the company is expected to unveil a robotic application for Pulse in late September.

Pulse is the first single platform to include multiple technologies designed to help surgeons adopt more efficient, less disruptive surgical approaches in all spine procedures, CEO Chris Barry said during the company's second-quarter earnings call this week. The system is designed to combine neuromonitoring, surgical planning, rod bending, radiation reduction, imaging, and navigation in order to address many of the challenges spine surgeons face.

But the spine market is increasingly competitive and many of the key players in the space already have a robot on the market. So how has the competitiveness of the space – particularly on the surgical robotics side – impacted NuVasive? That's what Matt Miksic, an analyst at Credit Suisse, wanted to know during the earnings call.

"I don't know it's having a direct impact on our ability to grow, but it is challenging," Barry said in response to Miksic's question. "The U.S. market is a very competitive market. I do believe some of the competitors that were maybe not as competitive over the last several years have renewed their focus through robotics and some other key technologies."

Barry went on to say, however, that he thinks NuVasive is competing well and that the company's focus on procedurally-integrated solutions has paid off in dividends.

"But, very clearly, the entrance of Pulse and ultimately our pursuit of robotics gives us better competitive footing against other competitors that have parts of the portfolio we simply don't have today," he said.

Pulse alpha and beta trials are underway in international markets with hospital sites identified in Europe, New Zealand, and Australia, and NuVasive anticipates getting a CE mark for Pulse later this year. Additionally, Barry said NuVasive is on track to launch more than a dozen new products this year.

"With the Pulse commercial launch in the U.S., in combination with our robotics application well underway, the current and future product portfolio has never been stronger," he said.

Matt Link, the company's president also pointed out that there has been a trend in the market toward consolidation.

"When we think about consolidation, critical factors include having a comprehensive offering of procedural solutions and technologies, and so the work we've done to really build out the portfolio comprehensively, to really participate in the market as a full-line spine provider, has been critical," Link said. "And then, obviously, the role enabling technologies play is important as well."

Link said the value proposition of Pulse is really around an integrated platform of enabling technologies. One such technology is LessRay, NuVasive's image enhancement platform designed to take low-quality, low-dose images and improve them to look like conventional full-dose images. 

"When we think about significant barriers to adoption with respect to advanced technologies and procedures, like minimally invasive procedures, radiation exposure, and imaging integration is a key component, and that's obviously an area where LessRay shines," Link said.

Earlier this year it was rumored that Smith & Nephew was interested in acquiring NuVasive for more than $3 billion. Neither company officially commented on the prospective tie-up, and so far nothing has materialized to substantiate that rumor.

Plastics Industry Association names industry veteran Tony Radoszewski President and CEO

Plastics Industry Association names industry veteran Tony Radoszewski President and CEO

As the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS; Washington, DC) faces challenges from big brand names leaving the organization, as both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola announced last week, and pressure on many other member companies from anti-plastics groups, a strong, plastics industry veteran is needed at the helm. The association has chosen someone it believes is right for the job: Tony Radoszewski, an experienced executive leader and plastics industry veteran, has been named President and CEO effective September 16, 2019.

Tony Radoszewski
Tony Radoszewski

“Tony is a skilled, experienced executive leader with the demonstrated ability to build critical relationships with key stakeholders, drive member benefits, positively enhance the profile of the industry and advance critical initiatives that will challenge us going forward,” commented Wylie H. Royce, Chairman of the Board of Directors of PLASTICS.

With nearly 40 years of experience in the field, Radoszewski joins PLASTICS after serving since 2006 as the president of the Plastics Pipe Institute. “I am grateful for this opportunity to lead such an important and respected organization,” Radoszewski said. “While I have decades of experience in the plastics industry, I know as I step in to lead the great PLASTICS organization that I have much to learn and I am dedicated to listening to members as a top priority and understanding the opportunities and challenges we have. I have great respect for what has been done to build this association and I am truly honored to be able to lead PLASTICS and, along with our team, take the association to the next level.”

Royce added, “We are delighted to have Tony in place to lead PLASTICS into the future, building on the legacy created by Bill Carteaux, who led the association for nearly 15 years, ending with his untimely death in late 2018. We deeply appreciate Patty Long, who has served as interim president and chief executive officer, and the entire PLASTICS team for keeping the association moving ahead and on track.”

Radoszewski, who holds a degree in chemistry from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, began his career as a polyolefins sales representative with Phillips Chemical in 1980. In 1986, he moved to Houston to become part of the Phillips managerial team, holding positions in pricing and supply, market development and finally as market manager for film and rotational molding. In 1992, Radoszewski was named oil and gas sales manager for Phillips Driscopipe (now Performance Pipe), based in Richardson, TX. There he was later named director of business development in a new strategic division created to enhance and expand the corporate portfolio by developing new products and markets to increase the company’s position. Following that role, he became sales director for Phillips Sumika Polypropylene Co., a joint venture between Phillips Chemical and Sumitomo Chemical.

In 1995, Radoszewski joined Advanced Drainage Systems Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of plastic drainage pipe, as director of marketing and business development, a position he held for seven years before being president of Wentworth Group International, a business-to-business firm specializing in market development for industrial clients.

In 2006, Radoszewski was recruited to become president of the Plastics Pipe Institute. During his 13-year tenure, he led efforts that dramatically increased membership, enhanced member services, and improved cash flow and profitability for the association while also strengthening relationships with key stakeholders, including government.

PLASTICS Board Chairman Royce added, “We face the future with optimism and excitement and look forward to the positive contributions we know Tony will make.”

Is an age-old chemical process the solution to today’s plastic waste problem?

Is an age-old chemical process the solution to today’s plastic waste problem?

Let me state at the outset that plastics, per se, are not the problem. Plastics are essential to modern life and provide countless benefits in transportation, healthcare, food storage and so much more. The real problem is plastic waste. Environmentalists and NGOs have long warned of the impact that plastic waste has on land, water and air. Today, regulators, industries and society alike recognize the need to limit waste and identify solutions.

plastic trash

Recent years have seen heightened interest in the potential for circular technologies to break, or at least mitigate, the adverse effects of plastic waste in the environment. However, these solutions can’t handle all types of plastic waste, especially plastics blended with other materials such as adhesives. And in many markets, the economics favor new-use or single-use plastics over recycling, while others lack the necessary collection and sorting systems. As a result, single-use flexible plastics, such as bags and packaging—which account for about 50% of all plastics consumption and half of total ocean litter—mostly end up being incinerated, landfilled or just thrown away.  

Boston Consulting Group (BCG; Boston) recently completed several comprehensive analyses of global waste markets, collection systems and recycling regulations, including business cases for mechanical recycling and conversion technologies. BCG examined the plastics-to-fuel (PTF) value chain, including an in-depth analysis of pyrolysis, a common PTF technology that uses heat in an oxygen-starved environment to convert plastic waste into synthetic oil and gas without emitting a lot of greenhouse gases. “We examined the costs of the pyrolysis process and its market potential as well as its environmental impact and shortcomings,” said Udo Jung, senior advisor to BCG and one of the authors of the study, “A Circular Solution to Plastic Waste.”

“Pyrolysis leads to liquid feedstock that can be used again to produce plastics, leading to a true circular solution,” explained Jung, citing BASF’s ChemCycling approach. “The quality of the plastic waste input and the specific pyrolysis technology determine whether the products can be used to produce plastics again or be used as fuel.”

BCG studied how various factors and trends play out in three types of markets around the world, ranging from largely unregulated and immature markets to highly regulated ones with well-developed collection chains. The analysis was reviewed by experts from the chemical industry, waste management companies, circular-economy organizations and academe.

Chemical recycling of plastics to fuel, or plastics regeneration, can fill a big gap on the disposal-reuse spectrum. The ultimate solutions will involve a combination of judicious consumption and disposal measures as well as the development of cost-competitive and environmentally friendly alternatives. Most observers would agree, however, that these changes are years away. In the meantime—over the next decade or two—circular solutions can be implemented to reuse or repurpose plastic waste in the most efficient way.

BCG’s main conclusion is that while the economics and business challenges vary, conversion technologies such as pyrolysis are economically viable in all the market types described in the study. In some, pyrolysis can have an immediate and substantial impact—it has the potential to treat up to two-thirds of the plastic waste generated in Jakarta, for example. In others, the business case is feasible only if governments act to make inexpensive and environmentally detrimental means of disposal—principally landfills—less financially attractive.

“There is a clear hierarchy from top to bottom of addressing the problem of plastic waste,” Jung explained to PlasticsToday. “Avoiding unnecessary plastic packaging is at the top of the hierarchy. Reuse is next, then mechanical recycling and the case for pyrolysis or chemical recycling, which is suitable for anything that can’t be mechanically recycled.”

Pyramid of plastic waste management from Boston Consulting Group
The pyramid of plastic waste management, courtesy Boston Consulting Group.
Click for PDF:
PDF iconBCG-pyramid-pdf.pdf

BCG’s study noted that conversion into fuel or petrochemical feedstock can be realized through a variety of technologies, the most common of which is pyrolysis. Pyrolysis has some distinct advantages over other recycling and recovery technologies. It is adept at handling a variety of plastic types that mechanical-recycling centers typically reject. While pyrolysis uses heat, the only carbon dioxide it emits is from the energy source that generates the heat. As a result, its carbon footprint is much lower than incineration.

Santosh Appathurai, Principal in BCG’s Houston office and co-author of the study, told PlasticsToday that a pyrolysis chemical recycling process could be used to treat all plastics except PET and PVC. Flexible plastics are the most significant material for chemical recycling because they don’t go to mechanical recycling. “We have had examples of companies partnering in the collection and chemical recycling of flexible household plastic waste, like the Dow Orange Bag program [with Republic Waste Services], in which non-recyclable plastic waste is collected and sent to a pyrolysis plant,” said Appathurai. 

Depending on the mix of inputs, the output from pyrolysis is 70% to 80% oil, which can be used for a variety of purposes, and 10% to 15% gas, which is usually recycled to provide the pyrolysis heat, said the BCG study. Only about 10% to 15% of the output is char, an inert solid that can be recycled for roads or sent to landfills, although some usage of char as a fuel has also been demonstrated. Using the liquid output from pyrolysis as fuel or inputs for petrochemical plants prolongs the original plastics’ lifecycle to at least a second round when used for fuel and potentially to several more when used for inputs, depending on the ultimate usage and disposal.

Like any chemical process, pyrolysis has its challenges. The biggest are scale and operational complexity. Pyrolysis reactors require near-continuous operation, and downtime is costly. A plant typically comprises a single unit with additional units added in parallel to increase capacity. Some players are exploring continuous-process reactors of smaller size to gain scale.  

Pyrolysis also requires a sustained and consistent amount of good-quality feedstock to function effectively. This is one of the major challenges of the process because the plastics must be sorted and cleaned in advance to avoid contamination (although the cleaning and processing standards are less stringent than those required for mechanical recycling).

“If there’s one magic bullet, it’s getting quality separated plastic waste and using it in every dimension,” commented Appathurai. “Waste is intermingled. If we can figure out the supply chain to segregate it and get it to recycling facilities, we would have a better solution.”

These and other issues raise a key question with respect to whether pyrolysis can contribute in a meaningful way to plastic waste solutions: Is it economically viable? Four factors directly determine the economic viability of pyrolysis, and they can vary considerably by region and market:

  1. The addressable volume of plastic waste;
  2. feedstock acquisition and treatment costs;
  3. capacity and operating expenses of pyrolysis plants;
  4. potential revenues from the sale of pyrolysis liquid and gas.

To assess the financial viability of pyrolysis as a business, particularly for energy and chemical companies, BCG researched eight markets, each with its own distinct characteristics. The markets can be divided into three representative categories: Mature, moderately regulated and nascent. For each market, BCG used two criteria to determine economic viability:

  • Margin—revenues from the sale of pyrolysis liquids minus the costs to acquire feedstock, the cash costs of operation, and capital expenditures.
  • Volume—estimated number of 30-kt/y plants that can be run given the addressable volume of plastic waste in the market. (To obtain a higher throughput, more units typically are added in parallel.)

BCG established an arbitrary nominal internal rate of return (IRR) hurdle of 12% as the minimum return that a company would need to justify investment. Its analysis indicates that, of the eight markets, six exceed this IRR and four of them do so substantially, including one nascent market, Jakarta.

Mature markets

These markets have established, mature collection systems and limited landfill use because of regulations or space constraints, near-term recycling targets with stringent monitoring, and near- and medium-term plans to reduce single-use plastics consumption. The study included Singapore and the Seine Maritime province of France. Both have attractive IRRs (more than 20% and 25%, respectively), but they are based on very different business cases.

In Singapore, the market offers an ample supply of mixed-plastic feedstock, but the high cost of collection and cleaning could have a big impact on profitability. Singapore generates some 2,200 tons of plastic waste per day; about 50% of it comes from residential sources. Most of it goes straight to incineration centers. Only approximately 12% to 20% enters recycling sorting centers, and just half of this is actually recycled, with the balance rejected principally because of contamination. Given that it offers the potential to acquire 120 to 300 tons a day of discarded plastic from sorting centers, Singapore could provide the necessary scale for a 30-kT/y pyrolysis plant. (Regulatory changes that favor pyrolysis could divert additional plastic waste from incineration, making an even greater supply available.)

In Seine Maritime, feedstock costs are substantially lower. A pyrolysis operator could expect to achieve a profit margin of almost $130 a ton, or nearly 30%. But Seine Maritime generates only about 150 to 190 tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) a day, most of which (110 to 160 tons) goes to incinerators or landfills. To ensure sufficient supply for a 30-kT/y plant, an operator would need to either look beyond the Seine Maritime province for supply or use plastics extracted from landfills, which would require cleaning and sorting.

Moderately developed markets

These are markets with established waste-collection systems, little pressure on reducing landfill use because of favorable economics and some long-term recycling goals (including data collection to support them), but no firm regulations related to reducing plastics consumption.

The U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast is representative. Plastic waste is both ample (about 25,000 tons a day) and inexpensive (approximately $125 a ton). Of the five states in the region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas), only Florida recycles a significant percentage of its MSW (37%); the other states are in the single digits, with 90% or more of their MSW going to landfills. We estimate that pyrolysis plants in the Gulf Coast states could operate with a profit margin of about $135 a ton, or 30%. Continued fallout from China’s decision to restrict imports of recyclables adds to addressable volume and reduces costs for potential operators. Improved sorting efficiency could cut costs further.

Nascent markets

These markets are characterized by inadequate plastic waste collection systems, few recycling targets and no firm regulations related to reducing plastics consumption. The study authors looked specifically at several regions of Indonesia (Jakarta, Ambon and Batam) and at the Chinese provinces of Guangdong and Zhejiang. Overall, China spans the nascent and moderately developed categories: Many cities have developed formal collection systems, and incineration of waste to generate electricity is common.

The regions of Guangdong and Zhejiang share very similar characteristics. A small group of cities in each generates 80% of the plastic waste. Private companies manage waste collection and processing, but mechanical recycling depends on an informal network of waste pickers, collectors and traders. These provinces have the potential to provide ample supply for pyrolysis facilities, but the feedstock acquisition cost is high—more than $200 a ton in both regions. This results in total plant operating costs of more than $400 a ton. Estimated margins would be about $40 a ton, or 8% to 9%.

Balancing environmental impact and profit potential

In all markets, the biggest single challenge for pyrolysis is achieving the scale necessary to have a significant impact on the plastic waste problem and generate sufficient revenues and profits to justify investment. Some important limitations and risks have to be addressed. The most immediate limitations are the current small scale—a typical plant handles 25 to 30 kt/year—and challenging technical operations. Potential unintended consequences also need to be considered. Several chemical companies are putting major effort into research and development of plastic products that have a greater ability to be mechanically recycled. Promoting pyrolysis, a means of plastics regeneration, could eliminate the incentives for these R&D efforts.

That said, pyrolysis offers energy and chemical companies the opportunity to explore profitable new business models while simultaneously improving their environmental, social and governance performance. Pyrolysis can have an immediate and significant impact in immature markets such as Jakarta (where pyrolysis could handle more than half and potentially up to two-thirds of all plastic waste), Guangdong (a quarter of all plastic waste) and Zhejiang (one-fifth of all plastic waste). Pyrolysis also is economically viable in many mature markets. In regions such as the U.S. Gulf Coast, however, where pyrolysis competes on cost with ample landfill capacity, governments need to decide whether they want to use their legislative and regulatory authority to discourage landfilling and provide incentives for alternatives.

Governments have an important part to play in incentivizing the development of plastic waste solutions. Europe has been a leader in this area through its promotion of and investment in new processes and technologies as well as through its regulation of plastics usage and disposal in general. All governments need to shape policies to create guiding frameworks that help define a clear waste management hierarchy and incentivize recycling to address all plastic types. Such frameworks can aid the development and successful implementation of innovative product design, waste management infrastructure and mechanical recycling, as well as plastics regeneration technologies. All levels of government can contribute, from local or regional legislative bodies to national assemblies, executives and agencies.

Within the current hierarchy of solutions, PTF can play an important role in mitigating the environmental impact of plastics in the near to medium term. The more companies, governments and institutions invest in or support conversion technologies, the greater their ability to contribute to solving this global environmental problem.

“We’re hitting on a lot of the right pieces of this puzzle,” Appathurai told PlasticsToday. “What we need is cross-industry participation, where we’re able to streamline collection with one goal as opposed to different industries with different goals. We need to create the right incentives to solve the issue of collection and disposal and for viable ways to sell products in end markets.”

New medical plastic additive improves device lubricity

Raumedic (Helmbrechts, Germany) has announced the development of a biocompatible additive that the company said will enhance the lubricity of medical devices and has the potential to serve as a lower-cost alternative to PTFE. The material can be added to thermoplastic elastomers, polyamides, polystyrenes and polyolefins.

Raumedic's Dr. Katharina Neumann
The biocompatible additive has the potential to improve catheter products, said Dr. Katharina Neumann, "because they are easier to introduce into the body thanks to their reduced gliding force."

The contract manufacturer for medical device and pharmaceutical OEMs said that the additive will enhance the sliding properties of medical plastic components without affecting the mechanical and chemical characteristics of the base material. The new material was tested in combination with various polymers over a six-month period. In comparison studies of extrudates with and without the additive, the company reportedly found that the additive had no significant effect on dimension stability, flow rate and tensile strength. It did not disclose any information about the composition of the additive.

Radiopaque settings and customized color finishes should also be possible with the material, according to Raumedic. “We see tremendous improvement potential for our catheter products because they are easier to introduce into the body thanks to their reduced gliding force,” said Dr. Katharina Neumann, Head of Materials Chemistry at Raumedic. It can improve the properties of existing guidewires and optimize syringe systems, she added.

“The additive can be used for all applications in which plastic has to glide well on plastic,” said Neumann. Potential application areas include regional anesthesia, drug delivery and minimally invasive surgery.

The new material combination also has the potential to significantly lower costs, Neumann said. “Thermoplastic PTFE is relatively expensive,” she said. “Our new compound could be a lower-cost alternative.” She advises companies to consider the material before they begin product development work on relevant applications.

Raumedic provides extrusion, injection molding and assembly services at its facilities in Germany and Mills River, NC.

The VW Microbus Gets Revamped As an EV with Generative Designed Parts

Volkswagen Group recently unveiled the results of a special project with Autodesk showing how technology is transforming automotive design and manufacturing processes. An engineering team from Volkswagen’s Innovation and Engineering Center California (IECC) reconceptualized and retrofitted an iconic 1962 VW Microbus with cutting-edge technologies such as electric propulsion and generative that are likely to play a big part of the auto industry’s future.

VW, Volkswagen Group, generative design, EV, Innovation and Engineering Center California, IECC
Volkswagen Group’s re-conceptualized 1962 Microbus. (Image source: Volkswagen)

To rapidly design and manufacture the vehicle, the team leveraged generative design through Autodesk’s Fusion 360 software. This approach allowed them to input design goals into the software, which explored all the possible solutions and generated alternative designs.

 By, using generative design, the team was able to:

  • Create new wheels 18% lighter than a standard set
  • Re-imagine the steering wheel, external side mirrors and the support structure for the seating area
  • Reduce the overall development time to manufacturing time, shortening the 1.5 year-cycle down to a few months

The team focused on maximizing strength while minimizing weight. Autodesk collaborated with VW’s IECC to revamp several components of the electric vehicle. One of the critical aspects in designing electric vehicles is finding weight savings wherever possible, since the less an automobile weighs, the less energy required to propel it down the road. Reduced energy consumption provides greater range per charge, one of the critical considerations for consumers when evaluating electric vehicles.

The generative design process was created to allow the computer to meet strength requitements while using the least about of material. “Generative design approaches design challenges holistically, by considering the load cases, manufacturing methodologies, and materials simultaneously,” Paul Sohi, technology evangelist for Fusion 360 at Autodesk, told Design News. “Generative design is able to produce parts that are ready for manufacturing straight out of the tool.”

VW, Volkswagen Group, generative design, EV, Innovation and Engineering Center California, IECC

Generative design was applied to the wheels to achieve a weight savings of 18%. (Image source: Volkswagen)

The IECC team applied generative design to the wheels of its 1962 Type 2 11-window Microbus, completely rethinking the structure because lighter wheels not only reduce the overall weight of the car, they also lessened the rolling resistance on the tires. The new wheels are 18 percent lighter than a standard set, and the overall development time from design to manufacture was cut from 1.5 years down to a matter of months. “Generative design is able to produce parts that are ready for manufacturing straight out of the tool,” said Sohi. “In the case of VW, this is what we did to ensure the wheel met all the requirements set by VW.”

VW, Volkswagen Group, generative design, EV, Innovation and Engineering Center California, IECC

Volkswagen wanted to put a generatively designed object in a place where people will touch it, both to show off its intricacy and beauty, but also to give a sense of the strength of these parts. (Photo image: Volkswagen)

Generative design was also used to re-imagine the steering wheel, as well as the support structure for the rear bench seating and the external side mirror mounts. “Different materials were used depending on the application. The wheels are cast in Alu T7, while the mirrors, steering wheel, and seat bench area are made of high-strength 3D printable plastics,” said Sohi.

VW, Volkswagen Group, generative design, EV, Innovation and Engineering Center California, IECC

The vehicle’s external side mirror mounts were reimagined with generative design. (Image source: Volkswagen)

Some of the components for the bus were created to provide a symbolic example of the power of generative design. While the steering wheel is not a particularly heavy component, it is the primary touchpoint for the driver. “People aren’t really accustomed to touching mounts or supports,” said Erik Glaser, principal product designer at the Volkswagen Group. “We wanted to put a generatively designed object in a place where people will touch it because not only is it intricate and beautiful, but it can also give a sense of just how strong these parts can be.”

The swiftness of the design and production of the VW bus suggests this form of manufacturing could possibly be rolled out for production. The question remains whether generative-design parts could be used in high volume production. If so, would the parts be produced by additive manufacturing or traditional manufacturing? “That’s a question for VW,” said Sohi. “They’ve expressed interest in the continued use of generative design for applications beyond what we worked on here, so hopefully this was the first step to many new things.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

Tokyo Olympic Medals Are Made From Recycled Electronics

 

For the first time, Olympic medals will be produced entirely from recycled electronic devices. (Image source: Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee)

The medals awarded to victorious athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games are special—not just because the symbolize athletic prowess and excellence, but also because  the gold, silver and bronze medals awarded to the athletes are being manufactured entirely from recycled materials.

The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games conducted the “Tokyo 2020 Medal Project” to collect small electronic devices such as used mobile phones from all over Japan. This project makes Tokyo 2020 the first in the history of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to involve citizens and to manufacture the 5,000 required medals using recycled metals.

The Tokyo 2020 Medal Project also included a medal design competition that invited the public to submit design ideas for the medals. The winning medal was designed by Junichi Kawanishi.

The project brought in 78,895 tons of electronic devices—including 6.21 million mobile phones. Both the gold and silver medals are made entirely from pure silver, though the former uses more than six grams of gold plating on top of the silver base. The bronze medals are made from a red brass alloy, which is 95 percent copper and five percent zinc.

According to a news release by the Tokyo Organizing Committee, “The approximately 5,000 medals in total have now been produced from the small electronic devices that were contributed from people all over Japan. We hope that our project to recycle small consumer electronics and our efforts to contribute to an environmentally friendly and sustainable society will become a legacy of the Tokyo 2020 Games.”

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Medals

Diameter

85mm

Thickness

Thinnest part: 7.7mm
Thickest part: 12.1mm

Weight

Gold: about 556g
Silver: about 550g
Bronze: about 450g

Composition

Gold: more than 6 grams of gold plating on pure silver
Silver: pure silver
Bronze: red brass (95% copper and 5% zinc)

Ribbons

Attached to the top of medals

Side of Medal

The name of the event will be engraved in English

 

Senior Editor Kevin Clemens has been writing about energy, automotive, and transportation topics for more than 30 years. He has masters degrees in Materials Engineering and Environmental Education and a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. He has set several world land speed records on electric motorcycles that he built in his workshop.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

Engineering plastics irreplaceable in electromobility

Engineering plastics irreplaceable in electromobility

Megatrends in the automotive industry are posing new challenges for the materials used, yet at the same time opening up new opportunities. Electromobility and autonomous driving are set to revolutionize cars and put established vehicle concepts to the test.

Future mobility is set to revolutionize the interior of vehicles, and beyond.

Automobile trends, such as reduced emissions, electrification and automated driving, will only become a reality with constant innovation. Modern vehicles already rely heavily on material solutions from the plastics industry; however, in the future, chemistry will play an even greater role, making a significant contribution to solving tomorrow’s mobility challenges.

The speed at which the industry is able to optimize the performance, weight, safety and above all the efficiency of electric drive trains will be a crucial factor in the success of electromobility. Flame-retardant plastics are indispensable in enabling savings to be made in terms of the weight and installation space required for high-voltage components. Special polyamide (PA) and polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) grades from BASF can be used as halogen-free, flame-retardant materials to give high-voltage components both inside and outside of the vehicle the exact properties required. These engineering plastics meet the highest requirements in flame retardance, color stability, mechanics, and electric insulation.

At the same time, the intrinsic insulating properties add to the safety in the vehicle. BASF has a portfolio of various PA 6 and 66 grades available to ensure dependable microelectronics in control equipment and sensors that help prevent electric corrosion damage to circuits. The various Ultramid EQ grades (EQ: electronic quality) that BASF has been marketing for years are extremely pure and contain almost no electrically active or corrosive substances, such as halides. Furthermore, this material also has excellent heat aging resistance properties.

Today’s electronic drive systems are still primarily part of the metals industry. Top date, manufacturers of electronic motors and power electronic components have been using housing made of steel or die-cast aluminum. As many of the components are now actively cooled, meaning that heat no longer needs to be dissipated via the housing, plastic solutions are now a possibility for lightweight construction, for example flame-retardant Ultramid grades A3U42G6 and B3U50G6.

Housings that contain high-voltage electric components must be electrically shielded to prevent compromising the surrounding area. Metal coatings on the plastic housing parts are one of the possible solutions that BASF is pursuing. Coating in this way can provide good shielding of the magnetic field. In addition, engineering plastics offer the advantage of integrating additional functions into the component. In prototype pre-series projects with customers, it has already been able to show that plastic housings manufactured using this process are lighter and more economical than comparable die-cast aluminum housings.

In addition to electromobility, highly automated driving will also revolutionize tomorrow's vehicles. In driverless vehicles, the interior will become an extended living room. The number of sensors will increase significantly, relieving drivers of many driving tasks. BASF has already made a significant contribution to a number of sensitive electronic sensor technologies with its unique portfolio of hydrolytically resistant PBT grades.

However, the increasing level of automation will also see a range of new sensors, such as radar, lidar, IR, and ultrasonic sensors find their way into our cars. These function not only as lane assistants but also as collision warning systems and distance controllers, and also assist with the emergency brake function – a basic prerequisite for controlling cars completely automatically in the future. Implementing these solutions into large-scale production can only be guaranteed using plastics.

BASF also offers radar-optimized plastics used for radar transmission and absorption that increase the accuracy of the radar sensors, thereby improving the functionality of the automated vehicle with greater cost efficiency.

Care Is Migrating to ASC Settings—What’s Your Strategy?

Care Is Migrating to ASC Settings—What’s Your Strategy?
Image by skeeze from Pixabay 

Amidst all the noise about healthcare in the United States, a quiet revolution is reshaping the industry. Care delivery is migrating from inpatient (IP) to outpatient (OP) settings at an accelerating pace. But just because care migration is taking place without much fanfare doesn’t mean device manufacturers should ignore it. Indeed, as this trend continues, manufacturers need to take decisive steps to serve this new customer segment, or they may pay a price.

Hospital outpatient departments (HOPDs) and ambulatory care centers (ASCs) are operationally very different from in-patient facilities and present their own set of unmet needs. Those needs represent an emerging market opportunity, and manufacturers need to understand the nuances of this evolving industry to build long-term, sustainable strategies.

Care migration is an irreversible trend, not a temporary headwind. Hospitals have been experiencing declining inpatient admissions over the last 20 years.1 Between 2006 and 2016, IP revenue for community hospitals declined from 62% to 52% of total revenue, while OP revenue increased from 38% to 48% in the same period.1(p38) Today, around two-thirds of surgeries are performed in HOPDs and ASCs2; ASCs saw procedure volumes increase by 23% nationally in 2017.3

Several factors have enabled this evolution, including the growing sophistication of surgical tools and techniques, new pain management and diagnostic techniques, a boom in the development of OP care delivery options, consumer demand for convenience and access, and changing perspectives on site-specific reimbursement.

This transition is good news for consumers, payers, and employers as it promises to lower costs, improve access and convenience, and, if done right, deliver better outcomes. Public and commercial payers enforce policy to migrate care to ASCs, like compressing HOPD reimbursement rates, expanding the “ASC-covered procedures” list, removing procedures from the “in-patient only” list, and offering lower copays for ASC procedures compared with those for HOPD procedures. ASCs save Medicare and its beneficiaries more than $2.6B annually,4 so it is no surprise that payers are proponents of this shift in care.

Manufacturers whose sales have historically been in in-patient settings need to consider whether the growing volume in out-patient settings has implications for design, profitability, or commercialization. Those who do not will leave themselves vulnerable to market erosion. By recognizing and capitalizing on the needs of the ASC market, manufacturers can differentiate themselves and enhance their position as a vendor of choice.

Here are a few targeted interventions manufacturers should consider as they look to expand their presence in the ASC market:

  • Build a compelling, data-driven case for providers that your products improve short and long-term outcomes AND lower cost when used in outpatient settings, and that quality and safety are equivalent or better compared with those of inpatient settings.
  • Work with clinicians to improve skills, providing tools/resources and training to enhance quality, safety, and efficiency related to your product or therapeutic area in the outpatient setting.
  • Advocate for a data-based approach to triage. Work with physicians and clinical practice guideline organizations to develop data-driven methodologies to reliably identify patients for whom OP settings would be suitable.
  • Develop tools and training to facilitate patients’ pre-surgical preparation and post-discharge health monitoring (with patient-reported outcomes and at-home data monitoring), thus keeping track of quality of outcomes.
  • Offer technological solutions for optimizing operational efficiency at ASCs. ASCs must manage high surgical volumes in constricted time frames while complying with CMS rules. Manufacturers could offer technological solutions that improve efficiency, including inventory and case management/tracking software, and clinical data registry solutions that accelerate quality improvement, propel clinical research, support CMS quality reporting, and leverage patient feedback among other features.
  • Engage in strategic alliances to offer products and services that bring holistic value across the care continuum. For example, DePuy Synthes, a J&J orthopedics and spinal care company, led the following strategic alliances to extend patient care beyond surgery:
    1. With IBM Watson, they offered a range of treatments and solutions through a science-based, insights-driven approach.5 These include behavior modification tools like Health Partner for Knees and Health Partner for Hips to support joint replacement preparation and recovery.6,7
    2. With Pacira Pharmaceuticals, they expanded the reach and frequency of EXPAREL education (bupivacaine liposome injectable suspension) for post-surgical pain management.8

OP settings present significant growth opportunities for medical device manufacturers in terms of portfolio expansion and positioning as market leaders. ASCs in particular are sufficiently different in their operating structure and concerns to merit a separate and distinct strategic commercialization plan. Manufacturers must take conscious steps to tailor their business strategy for the ASC market.

References

  1. AHA (2018). "TrendWatch Chartbook 2018: Trends Affecting Hospitals and Health Systems." [online] pp.27-34. Available at: https://www.aha.org/system/files/2018-07/2018-aha-chartbook.pdf. Accessed 26 Jun. 2019.
  2. Popa R. "The best insight in the ASC industry today: 10 key trends to know." Becker’s ASC Review. https://www.beckersasc.com/asc-turnarounds-ideas-to-improve-performance/the-best-insight-in-the-asc-industry-today-10-key-trends-to-know.html. Published December 18, 2018. Accessed May 24, 2019.
  3. "Ambulatory Surgical Care Growth. ASC Surgical Volumes Grow in 46 of 50 Largest Markets while Hospitals Lose Share." https://www.franklintrustratings.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Press-Release-Ambulatory-Surgical-Trends-2018.pdf. Published February 2, 2018. Accessed May 24, 2019.
  4. "ASCs: A Positive Trend in Health Care - Advancing Surgical Care." ASCA. https://www.ascassociation.org/advancingsurgicalcare/aboutascs/industryoverview/apositivetrendinhealthcare. Accessed May 24, 2019.
  5. Allen D. Serving Ambulatory Surgery Centers: A Q&A with DePuy Synthes. MD+DI Online. https://www.mddionline.com/serving-ambulatory-surgery-centers-qa-depuy-synthes. Published September 11, 2017. Accessed May 24, 2019.
  6. Knee Pain Help & Resources. "Health Partner for Knees." https://knees.thehealthpartner.com/. Accessed May 24, 2019.
  7. Hip Pain Help & Resources. Health Partner for Hips. https://hips.thehealthpartner.com/. Accessed May 24, 2019.
  8. Pacira Pharmaceuticals Inc. "Pacira Pharmaceuticals Announces Collaboration With Depuy Synthes To Support Promotion, Education And Training Of EXPAREL In Orthopedics." 2017. http://investor.pacira.com/news-releases/news-release-details/pacira-pharmaceuticals-announces-collaboration-depuy-synthes?ID=2239568&c=220759&p=irol-newsArticle. Accessed May 24, 2019.