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Company insight


Plasma finds its role in the pandemic


The clouds of positively and negatively charged particles that we call plasma are increasingly valuable to the medical device industry. We talk to Jody Paulus, managing director of Belgian chemicals and coatings company Europlasma, about how his company’s technology is finding new ways for plasma to improve vital medical applications.


lasma is the fourth state of matter. Rarely found in nature, it is what forms the sun’s corona, and creates the northern and southern lights. Created by adding energy to a gas, plasma can be created artificially and put to industrial uses across a variety of markets, not least in the medical sector. “You can make plasma by making gas very hot as it forms at extreme temperatures or you can create a local low-pressure zone, as we do in large aluminium chambers, to create plasma at around 40°C,” explains Paulus. “Plasma can bombard any surface with a gas,” he says. “The first application is adhesion promotion for different substrates. If you have two plastics that are hard to glue together, then that problem can be solved. This technique is used a lot in the medical sector in high-end products, needle hubs for syringes, face masks and many other applications.”


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Europlasma pioneered the first roll-to- roll plasma machine in 1994 and the first industrial nanocoating machine in 1996. Since then, it has continued to innovate with products such as its patented nanocoating technology platform Nanofics and PlasmaGuard, which enable OEMs and manufacturers to apply liquid-repellent or other functional ultra-thin coatings on complex three-dimensional shapes as well as rolls.


printed circuit boards and medical devices due to their ability to remove molecular contamination layers from a surface, to etch by removing surface material to a tolerance of a few nanometres and to activate surfaces for chemical modification prior to gluing, painting or bonding.


“The process can change the surface properties of polypropylene to make petri dishes more hydrophilic, for example, so that liquids spread out more easily,” says Paulus. “Or, it can achieve very fine cleaning of products that will be inserted into the human body. Many such devices are 3D-printed, so they may have a coarse surface that needs to be smoothed before sterilisation.”


Coatings and Covid-19 A unique property of Europlasma’s technology is its ability to apply nanocoatings both on a 3D object and a roll of textiles. “Adding a coating with chemical vapours can deliver hydrophilic properties,” says Paulus. “This can create a slippery surface for a device that needs to go inside the body. It can also add hydrophobic properties, which can have an antibacterial or antiviral quality by reducing the amount of time that bacteria and viruses can survive on a surface.” This capability can also dramatically enhance the efficiency of filters, which makes the technology particularly important


“We are helping large and medium-sized mask companies by offering our coating capability as a service, as well as a technology.”


The company manufactures and sells plasma-enhanced chemical vapour deposition (PECVD) machines with plasma chambers, ranging from 50L to 2,000L. They are widely used in the production of


at a time when face masks are in high demand. In FFP2 masks, where aerosol filtration exceeds 94% and the internal leak rate is less than 8%, or FFP3 masks, where those figures reach 99% and 2%


Medical Device Developments / www.nsmedicaldevices.com


respectively, Europlasma’s technology can help manufacturers to achieve the required performance levels with much thinner filtration layers.


“The market for our technology is growing fast,” notes Paulus. “The technology itself is not new, but the applications for it have expanded. The filtration market is growing rapidly because of Covid-19. In fact, many of the leading manufacturers of face masks have tested our technology.


“One of the biggest advantages of our machines is that they use no water. Traditionally, creating chemical coatings requires a large volume of water and solvents. Our technology does not. It also creates nanocoatings that are much thinner and just as effective.”


While the pandemic may be putting Europlasma’s technology at the top of the agenda for manufacturers of high- quality face masks and other medical devices, the resultant travel restrictions have hampered the ability to install PEVCD machines around the world. Predictably, the company has done what it does best – innovate and adapt. “From November 2020, we are helping large and medium-sized mask companies by offering our coating capability as a service, as well as a technology,” Paulus explains. “They can either send us material to treat or they can buy treated material directly from us.”


At a time when the medical industry around the world is under great pressure, the ability to support device manufacturers depends not only on advanced technology, but also on new ways to deliver services. Europlasma sits at the forefront of this realisation and will continue to do so through the Covid-19 period and beyond. ●


www.europlasma.net 113


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