What Happens in a Health-Tech Factory?

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We all use health technology every day – from toothbrushes (yes, they’re technically technology!) to Fitbits to pill-bottles – but have you ever thought about how they get made? What sort of processes contribute to getting a toothbrush’s bristles perfect or getting that toothpick into the right shape? This article seeks to give the reader a bit of insight into the manufacturing of the products we think we know so much about.

Product Development

Before any product even ends up on the manufacturer’s to-do list, it needs to be developed. Some health-tech factories like Team Tech do the product development for clients, helping them do rapid prototyping and something called stereolithography (a type of three-dimensional printing) to help the designers get a better idea of how their product would work.

Part of development involves designing the molds, which can be very expensive as they need a lot of strong and sturdy metal. Unit tooling might also be required, the process of designing and engineering the tools necessary to manufacture certain parts; important as many factories that want to make a complex product need customized tools to do so!

Molding

Molding requires a pre-designed mold, which will facilitate several different kinds of molding techniques:

  1. Injection molding with a horizontal press
  2. Injection molding with a vertical press
  3. Two and three-component molding – also known as multi-material injection molding or MMM – the process of molding two or more different materials into one part.
  4. Insert molding – similar to injection molding but includes added metal to the mold before the mold close – as you might see with some cables
  5. Thin wall molding – a specialized injection molding process with shorter cycle times and lower costs per part
  6. Compression molding–a type of molding where pressure is used (the process used for rubber boots)

Bristling

Making bristles for brushes that are used in health or oral care is actually quite difficult, needing different technologies for different products. Some clients want a product with bristles made from a single tuft and others with hundreds more. The main processes in bristling are as follows:

  • IMT, also known as in-mold tufting, uses mechanically processed bristles that are guided into the receptacles with a pin before being pushed through the hole and melted on the other side (normally with a heating die) so that they’re firmly attached.
  • AFT, also known as anchor-free tufting and first patented for toothbrushes in 2001, allows for more flexibility. AFT-made products can have different bristle lengths, as well as an end-rounding quality. No heat is used to put the bristles in their place, but instead, they are pushed into the product with pins.
  • PT, also known as pressure tufting, doesn’t need an anchor for the bristles. They are pre-rounded before being inserted and bonded together. They’re anchored into the brush head just through pressure and heat.

Automation

The trick that many factories have to get right is the use of automation. It’s one thing identifying which processes work and another setting them up, so they work in an automated system while being cost-effective.