Welding Technology and Medical Miracles —
A Personal Story
by James Cruz, EWI
Welding is everywhere.
As a welding engineer with over 25 years of industrial experience, I know that. And after all this time, especially with 15 of those years here at EWI, I thought I had seen just about every application of welding there was to see. Then life happened.
In February 2021, I went in for a simple diagnostic test that none of us likes to talk about – a colonoscopy. When I came out of the twilight anesthetic, the first thing I remember the doctor telling me is that I had cancer. No waiting for the pathology, no sugar coating it. The past year has been a whirlwind of oh-so-many-doctors probing and inspecting. Radiation. Chemo. More chemo. CT Scans. MRIs. And ultimately – a proctectomy. They ‘harvested’ muscle from each of my inner thighs to fill the void left from taking so much of my colon and sphincter muscle. I recently returned to work after a two-month recovery that included healing of approximately 36 inches of sutures (another joining technology, if you think about it) and adjusting to a new life with a colostomy bag.
That’s where this story comes back to welding. Up until a few months ago, I never even really knew what a colostomy was, nor anything about the associated appliances. The photo on the left below shows what approximately 100,000 people in the US learn about each year – a colostomy bag. I’ll spare you the gory details, but these bags are so full of technology your head could spin!
First, there is significant research into the raw materials being used for each bag. From left to right, these samples are made by Coloplast, Hollister, and ConvaTec, and each material has a different ‘feel’. For obvious reasons, the bags must be water-tight and strong. Many of them include a complex venting system to allow gas to escape, but only after it has passed through a fancy charcoal filter to help mitigate odor (image on right). Then there is the welding! The seam around the entire periphery of the bag, as well as around the filter, is all welded!
Given the bag’s purpose, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about the importance of the integrity of that weld. Depending on the bag materials, there are several options available as candidate welding processes. Some of these might include radio frequency welding, laser welding, ultrasonic welding, and even thermal welding. I bet a big chunk of you didn’t even know plastics were weldable, let alone there were so many process options – and there are more than I have even listed here!
EWI has several experts who have made careers out of studying applications exactly like this, including Jeff Ellis and Miranda Marcus. If you would like to know more about working with polymers, please contact any of us, and we will be happy to field your questions.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with one final thought… For those of you who have put off your diagnostic health tests – be it mammogram or dermatologist skin check or colonoscopy – I implore you to take this blog as a sign to get that done. Trust me – all of those tests pale in comparison to the potential impact of not having them done.