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issue: April 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Designing with Plastics
Breathing Easy with Plastic Blends

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By Lisa Bonnema, Editor

Bayer MaterialScience’s Bayblend® FR3001 PC/ABS was selected for use in the production of a new device used in the treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

The Inogen One is designed to be the single oxygen supply device for oxygen patients. The product uses Bayblend FR3001 PC/ABS, which is said to be lightweight and durable, key features for the portable device.

Manufactured by Goleta, CA, U.S.-based Inogen, Inc., the new device, called Inogen One®, is said to be the home medical equipment industry’s first Independent Oxygen Concentrator.

The concept for the Inogen One was initially developed by three students from the University of California, Santa Barbara. The device is designed to replace both floor-based oxygen concentrators and portable oxygen delivery devices. Unlike floor-based oxygen concentrators, which weigh as much as 50 lb, the Inogen One weighs less than 10 lb. Additionally, the Inogen One eliminates the need for tanks typically associated with portable oxygen delivery systems and is capable of delivering 90 percent +/- 3 percent pure oxygen.

Because the device is used by oxygen patients on a daily basis, the product had to be lightweight and durable, making material selection a critical design component. Inogen worked with plastics supplier Bayer Material Science to choose the perfect material for the application and ended up using a PC/ABS blend.

Design Details

Omnica, a product design and development company in Irvine, CA, U.S., collaborated with Inogen in the overall design, mechanical engineering, test functions, and systems integration. According to both companies, the complexity of adapting a large, noisy, floor-based machine into a battery-powered, lightweight, portable device was an engineering challenge. “In making a small, compact product, such as the Inogen One, plastic component design becomes very challenging—parts can become increasingly complex in their form,” explains Geoff Deane, vice president of Engineering at Inogen. “Challenges present themselves in maintaining draft angles to permit desired surface texturing, avoiding sinks and knit lines, and ensuring that the material flows as intended to produce a high quality product at high yield rates.”

Mr. Deane adds that in some cases, engineers sacrifice the durability of their product by selecting more moldable materials that do not have appropriate material properties for their applications. Therefore, the company needed a material that achieved both goals.

Omnica introduced Inogen and Bayer MaterialScience, which immediately began working with the team to meet their material needs in terms of the plastics requirement and color selection. “As the program developed, we provided total support—data, samples, design reviews, and regulatory documentation,” Jack Chan, a technical marketing specialist at Bayer, explains.

Using multi-dimensional product optimization modeling and Bayblend FR3001 PC/ABS, Omnica was able to produce a prototype that met Inogen’s specifications for its first product launch.

Medical Material

According to Inogen, the key benefit of Bayblend PC/ABS is that it is durable enough to help form the device’s external housing as well as its blower funnel and battery sleeve. “We were attracted to Bayblend FR3001 PC/ABS because of the material’s strength, fire rating, and durability,” confirms Mr. Deane of Inogen.

Since the Inogen One is a combined stationary and portable device, it was designed to handle the rigors of daily use. Bayblend FR3001 PC/ABS provides increased strength to the device’s external housing, which helps protect and extend the life of the oxygen supply product.

Also, because there are more than 1 million users of oxygen devices in the U.S. alone, Inogen knew market volumes of its new product would be reasonably high. Therefore, it decided to use injection molding and needed a material that works well with the process.

According to Inogen, Bayblend FR3001 PC/ABS provides a high degree of design flexibility due to its flow properties, which allow it to completely fill complex molds. “We were interested in the reported improvements in moldability of the Bayblend PC/ABS 3001 product,” notes Mr. Deane. “Ultimately, the improved properties helped our injection molder produce higher quality plastic parts.”

The material, which is halogen/antimony-free and TCO 95/99, Nordic Swan, and Blue Angel compliant, also helps Inogen meet safety and fire ratings required by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). The device has a UL rating of V0 at 1.5-mm wall thickness.

This is the first major application of Bayblend FR3001, Bayer’s third generation of flame-retardant PC/ABS that is designed for medical/electrical electrochemical equipment housings and enclosures. According to Mr. Chan of Bayer, all properties of the new material exceeded the requirements of the Inogen One. “And since the requirements for most medical equipment applications are typically similar to those of Inogen, we feel that Bayblend FR3001 PC/ABS would be well suited for those applications,” Mr. Chan says.

In fact, Inogen was so pleased, it uses the material in various accessory parts for the oxygen device—the satellite conserver and external battery charger. And although Inogen One is the flagship product of Inogen, Mr. Deane assures it is not the last. “I am certain we will consider [Bayblend FR3001] use in the company’s future offerings,” he tells APPLIANCE.

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