Photopolymerization is a phenomenon in which a liquid resin is converted into insoluble poylmer material upon irradiation with a light source. The radiated light is often in the ultraviolet or visible region of the electromagnetic spectrum and interacts with light sensitive compounds called photoinitiators to create free radicals. These radicals can initiate polymerization of formulated mixtures of oligomers, monomers, and other components such as pigments, diluents, etc. to form crosslinked rigid polymers. The process of photopolymerization is also called as UV-curing and today products manufactured using these technologies are ubiquitous in our environment. Fundamental research in the area of photopolymerization has lead to increased understanding of the mechanisms behind cross-linking of polymeric mixtures. The outcome of this being increase in array of applications for this technology in industrial and medical sector. Some of the important products in which this technology finds application include electronic gadgets, domestic appliances, food and beverages containers, and automotive products. Application of this technology in medical applications is a recent market and hence is very niche compared to other applications segments.
This technique has been extensively used in the dentistry wherein sealants and dental restorations are formed in situ. The global market for photopolymerization in medical applications can be segmented on the basis of application area within the medical sector. The major application segments in this market include dentistry, 3D imaging, drug delivery and medical devices. The wide range of medical devices which use UV curing technology include catheters, endoscopes, cannulae, syringes, insulin pens, endotracheal tubings, angioplasty accessories, blood oxygenators, etc. Irgacure is one of the most widely used photoinitiators for medical applications. The UV curing can be performed using spot-curing or flood curing technology. Spot-curing involves delivering high amount of focused energy into relatively small areas while the flood curing systems deliver light to a larger area or focused band. Spot curing is widely used bonding technology in medical product applications and can deliver the radiant energy as a spot of 3-8 mm diameter or in customizable shape as required.
On the basis of geography, the global market for photopolymers in the medical applications is segmented into four major regions, namely, North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and Rest of the World. The developed regions which include the U.S.A. and few countries in Europe are major markets for photopolymerization in medical applications. However, the emerging countries in Asia-Pacific are increasing their share of consumption and production photopolymerization owing to increasing industrialization in the region.
The market for photopolymers is expected to increase as number of companies relying on ultraviolet cured products to achieve environmental compliance as well as improving customer satisfaction. The absence of heat generation in UV curing process prevents degradation of lubricious coatings done on guide wires and balloon catheters. Therefore, photopolymerization has become an excellent choice in medical applications where low temperatures are required during manufacturing of medical devices. The newer features in the curing systems which confiscate earlier drawbacks are becoming available in the market. The advanced features help in precise control of radiation and selective wavelength radiation improves the process resulting into more reliable and repetitive quality products. Some of the major companies which manufacture photopolymers and UV curing systems include BASF Corporation, Ciba Specialty Chemicals, Inc., DSM Biomedical, Lumen Dynamics Group Inc., Heraeus Noblelight Fusion UV Inc., Nordson Corporation, and Henkel Corporation.