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Better Adhesives for Better Medical Equipment

Reducing the footprint of components enhances functionality in smaller spaces. To meet this demand in the medical industry, device manufacturers are using pressure-sensitive adhesives for interconnects, grounding, and shielding applications.

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Advancements in electronics technology are enabling medical electronic equipment designed for faster diagnosis, improved patient quality of life, and new drug-based therapies. Patient monitoring, display, and testing equipment is becoming more accurate, versatile, compact, and portable to allow for improved bedside treatment. Such equipment includes blood glucose monitoring systems, insulin pumps, defibrillators, and neurological stimulators. Reducing the footprint of the components enhances functionality in smaller spaces.

To meet this demand, device manufacturers are using pressure-sensitive adhesives (PSAs) for interconnects, grounding, and shielding applications, according to the IDTechEx research report Thermal Interface Materials 2016-2026.

PSAs were developed as a heat-sink attachment method to eliminate the need for clamping. They feature an adhesive coated onto a continuous web of a substrate material such as polyimide film, fiberglass mat, or aluminum foil in either single-faced, double-faced, or transfer adhesive constructions, and wound into large rolls that are then converted to the exact specifications required for the end application. They have the capability to be precisely die-cut into custom shapes and narrow widths for improving manufacturing efficiency with mess-free processing.

Tapes are clean, low-waste, and easily processed. Larger bonding areas are problematic for pastes and liquids, as voids may result. Tapes deliver uniform, void-free bond lines of controlled thicknesses. However, PSAs have very limited compliance.

As device manufacturers face the pressures of faster prototyping, quick changeovers, and the increased use of automation, the advantages of PSAs over labor-intensive soldering operations are becoming more evident. Additional functionality, such as with an electrically conductive or thermally conductive adhesive, makes simplification of electronic device design and manufacturing possible.

Implantable devices are also incorporating the latest technological advancements for sophisticated and targeted therapies ranging from drug delivery and pain management to the treatment of neurological disorders. Popular fitness, health, and lifestyle wearables are capable of performing sophisticated data monitoring and processing, despite being no larger or more disruptive than the average bracelet or watch.

Many of these devices may lack the necessary space for such traditional cooling systems and thermal interface materials. Thinner form factors also mean that skin temperature is a key concern. First-degree burns occur at 43°C, but the user is uncomfortable far below that – as low as 38°C when it is touching the face.

Surface area to dissipate heat is also very small. In a watch, the stack sequence can be used to make sure the heat is dissipated on the world-facing side, not the hand-facing side. Components are spread out on single-sided boards. Manufacturers also need to emphasize flexible form factors. Highly conductive materials are typically not flexible, and desired shapes of wearables are complex.

Author Rachel Gordon is a technology analyst at IDTechEx, which provides independent research, business intelligence, and advice to companies across the value chain based on its core research activities and methodologies. 

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