This year, I had the opportunity to speak with Joe Rowan, president and CEO for USA and Europe of Junkosha Inc. Junkosha’s fluoropolymer products are widely used in clinical applications. The company offers ultrafine coaxial cables for ultrasonic diagnostic equipment as well as endoscopes for MRI coils. Junkosha also contributes to advances in catheter components used in endovascular treatment systems, provides injection molded parts for syringes and surgical knives, and offers tubes for blood testing apparatus and dialyzers.
Joe offered me some insight on the markets Junkosha operates in, challenges affecting the industry, and offered a prediction on the direction his industry is headed toward in the below interview:
Brusco: What are some trends and challenges affecting the medical tubing markets?
Rowan: The future of the medical tubing sector is an interesting one, not least because there are a variety of pressures on organizations within this space to provide cost effective, highest quality products in shorter timescales. This is mainly driven by the global healthcare market, which continues to demand products and solutions that push the boundaries of what is possible at a price point that is highly competitive.
Take the catheter market as a prime example of these challenges. In the world of neurovascular techniques, clinicians are pushing for solutions that enable them to deliver complex procedures more efficiently, therefore not only reducing costs both in terms of time and money, but also enabling the provision of a higher quality of care to patients. Procedures which include delivering stents, coils, and in some cases even signals/therapy down the catheter are all techniques moving from a “nice to have” to becoming mainstream over the next few years.
The trend towards procedures using smaller and smaller catheters and guide wires is only going to increase. This drives organizations like Junkosha to not only innovate on a product level, but also find ways to provide its solutions in a timely, efficient, and cost-effective manner that meets all of the customer’s unmet needs. In effect, today’s innovations are tomorrow’s essentials.
Brusco: What attracts medical device manufacturers (MDMs) to Junkosha? Are there any technologies or services you feel MDMs aren’t embracing enough?
Rowan: The secret of Junkosha is that we enable technology innovators through our technologies and through being easy to do business with. This is what attracts MDMs to us.
A key part of our success is built on the fact that “we do small really well.” After all, when clinicians are using catheters to navigate through the smallest of arteries in places like the heart and the brain, there is no margin for error. They require technologies that enable precise navigation, with the least amount of impact on the patient. It is this need that paved the way for our peelable heat shrink tubing (PHST) technology; a fluoropolymer-based product that enables safe and efficient access to the most exacting parts of the vasculature with minimal impact on the patient.
Junkosha is the pioneer of the PHST market; we created the category. Paving the way for progressively smaller catheter-based procedures, it is a sector that we expect MDMs to increasingly embrace in the next few years. The reasons, aside from their desire to meet the healthcare sector’s needs, are because PHST ultimately reduces Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for the catheter manufacturer. Since they no longer have to use the dated process of skiving, we can help them produce the final product more rapidly with improved yields and lower inspection levels while being more ergonomically safe.
Brusco: What are the most exciting current developments in your industry?
Rowan: The peelable heat shrink tubing (PHST) market is an exciting area to be in, not only because it meets our customers’ unmet needs, but also because it paves the way for smaller and smaller procedures. At February’s MD&M West event in Anaheim, we unveiled our latest innovations in this space, the first ultra-small PHST and high-shrink ratio PHST on the market. Ourultra-small PHST is the only suitable tubing for laminating jacket coatings to tiny guide wires, for example 0.011” and 0.014”, leveraging the fact that PHST has a recovered ID down to 0.009”. These miniature guide wires are perfect for applications including the navigation of vessels to reach a lesion or vessel segment within, for example, the brain or heart. The high-shrink ratio PHST (2:1) is ideal for manufacturing processes where tapered microcatheter shafts are used or where tolerance take-up is an issue.
This is independently verified by manufacturers. For example, Robert LaDuca, CEO of Duke Empirical, Inc., an innovative Medical Device Manufacturer explained: “As medical technology advances, device designers worldwide are being challenged to produce smaller and thinner micro catheters and guide wires which provide clinicians the ability to reach and treat previously inaccessible anatomical targets. The extension of minimally invasive treatment options for previously untreatable patient populations has created a need for new tools used in catheter manufacturing, such as the peelable heat shrink tubing products provided by Junkosha. In our experience, these new tools have been cost-effective in reducing scrap rates while increasing throughput by shortening assembly time.”
“In addition, these new products by Junkosha enable the manufacture of products which previously would not have been possible due to the challenges of heat shrink removal from delicate soft polymers used in certain high-performance catheters,” added LaDuca.
Brusco: What challenges does Junkosha face in the U.S. and European markets?
Rowan: There are numerous challenges Junkosha and its supply chain face in the U.S. and European markets, including:
- Stringent regulation across all levels of healthcare (never forgetting that it is ultimately about patient care)
- The increasing cost of healthcare, especially in the U.S. and Europe, which places a huge strain on those looking to innovate and provide the best possible service across the sector
- The need to make procedures less invasive for patients
Although these various challenges differ around the world, they all require one thing—innovations that not only improve the service to patients, but provide clinicians and other end users with technologies that make their lives easier, reduce costs, and save them time.
Brusco: What’s in store for the medical tubing market over the next few years?
Rowan: LaDuca explained: “In the future, we anticipate the utilization of miniaturized catheter solutions will be widely adopted by most medical manufacturers working on the leading edge of microcatheter technology.”
The move towards miniaturization, and ultimately nanotechnology, from a medical tubing perspective is picking up pace, with MDMs demanding catheter solutions that can readily penetrate harder to reach places. Added to this is the requirement for increasingly sophisticated catheters that can send diagnostic signals into the body or provide therapy, in other words “active” catheters. I expect these requirements to increase in the coming years.
In response to this emerging market, Junkosha has tapped into another core competence, that of fine wire and cable. Since its inception over 65 years ago, Junkosha has pioneered the use of demanding wire and cable interconnects. These active catheters, which are used in multi-lumen tubing, can be seen in diagnostic applications like IVUS (Intravascular Ultrasound), ICE (Intra Cardiac Echo) as well as monitoring components such as Thermocouples in procedures like AF (Atrial Fibrillation). Finally, they even deliver therapy in neurostimulation procedures. These tiny cables, which can be produced down to sizes as small as AWG 54, are a critical and integral part of the catheter.
The fact that Junkosha can not only manufacture these sophisticated interconnects and the associated catheter Fluoropolymer products, puts them in a unique position to partner and consult with the OEM or contract catheter manufacturer.