US 20070005003 A1
A reinforced multi-lumen catheter and method of manufacturing the same. An assembly for manufacturing the multi-lumen catheter includes a catheter body substrate including a septum, one or more mandrels, a reinforcing element and one or more sleeves. The septum may have a distal region with a cross-sectional thickness greater than that of a proximal region. The septum can be separately formed. The septum can be split along a length of the distal region. The reinforcing element can be positioned over at least a proximal region of the catheter body substrate.
1. A reinforced multi-lumen catheter, comprising:
an elongate body including an outer wall and a septum, the outer wall and the septum defining first and second lumens, the septum comprising a proximal region and a distal region, the septum distal region including a cross-sectional thickness greater than a cross-sectional thickness of the septum proximal region;
a reinforcing region comprising a reinforcing element positioned over a length of the elongate body, the reinforcing region extending over the septum proximal region and at least a proximal portion of the septum distal region; and
a sleeve positioned over the reinforcing element and the elongate body,
the septum distal region being split from a distal end thereof to a dividing point to form a first tip section and a second tip section, the dividing point being located distal the reinforcing region.
2. The reinforced multi-lumen catheter according to
3. The reinforced multi-lumen catheter according to
4. The reinforced multi-lumen catheter according to
5. The reinforced multi-lumen catheter according to
6. A method of making a multi-lumen catheter, comprising:
providing an assembly comprising:
a catheter body substrate comprising an outer wall and a septum, the outer wall and the septum defining first and second lumens, the septum comprising a proximal region and a distal region;
a first mandrel and a second mandrel inserted respectively into the first lumen and the second lumen;
a reinforcing element positioned over at least a proximal region of the catheter body substrate;
a sleeve positioned over the reinforcing element and catheter body substrate;
shrink tubing positioned over the sleeve;
heating the assembly; and
splitting the septum distal region from the distal end to a predetermined dividing point, the dividing point being distal of the septum proximal region.
7. The method according to
8. The method according to
9. The method according to
10. The method according to
11. The method according to
12. A method of making a multi-lumen catheter, comprising:
providing a cylindrical tube including a reinforcing region;
inserting an independently-formed septum into the tube to define two or more lumens therein; and
bonding the septum to the tube.
13. The method according to
14. The method according to
15. The method according to
16. A method of making a multi-lumen catheter, comprising:
combining an independently-formed septum with two or more mandrels, the mandrels and septum together forming a substantially circular cross-sectional shape;
wrapping an elongate member around the mandrels and septum to form an assembly, the elongate member comprising a coated reinforcing element;
heating the assembly.
17. The method according to
18. The method according to
19. A method of making a multi-lumen catheter, comprising:
creating an assembly, comprising:
providing a first catheter body substrate comprising a first lumen and a second catheter body comprising a second lumen, each substrate having a substantially semi-circular cross-sectional shape;
inserting a first mandrel into the first lumen and a second mandrel into the second lumen, wherein the first and second mandrels extend beyond both proximal and distal ends of the substrates;
arranging the first and second substrates to form a substantially circular cross-sectional shape;
positioning a reinforcing element over at least a proximal region of the first and second substrates;
positioning a sleeve over the reinforcing element and first and second substrates;
inserting a shim between the first and second substrates at a distal end thereof;
heating the assembly; and
cutting the sleeve along the position of the shim and removing the shim.
20. The method according to
21. The method according to
22. The method according to
This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/533,683, filed Dec. 31, 2003, which is expressly incorporated by reference as if fully set forth herein.
Multi-lumen catheters are used for the purpose of creating two or more separate fluid pathways, such as in hemodialysis applications. A primary goal of hemodialysis access is to provide a reliable and effective means of dialysis, which means that a sufficient volume of blood over a period of time must be removed from and returned to the patient. Because the contaminated and cleansed blood must be kept separate for an effective dialysis procedure, a dual lumen catheter is generally used. Typically, a dual lumen catheter for hemodialysis is configured so that there is a shorter lumen that aspirates blood from a blood vessel of a patient to a dialysis machine where it is processed for the removal of toxins, and a longer lumen that infuses the purified blood to the patient. The shorter lumen utilized for aspiration is generally referred to as the “arterial lumen,” while the longer lumen utilized for infusion is generally referred to as the “venous lumen.” The reason for the different lengths is to minimize co-mingling of aspirated and infused blood.
The primary problems occurring in dual lumen dialysis catheters include thrombosis and fibrin sheath formation, which can act to occlude distal tips of the dialysis catheter lumens, resulting in loss of catheter function when such an occlusion prevents blood flow. This typically occurs initially in the arterial lumen used for aspiration of blood from a patient. A secondary problem relates to the arterial lumen “sucking” against the vessel wall, in which the arterial lumen openings become fully occluded by the patient's vasculature. To specifically address these problems, a unique type of dialysis access catheter has been designed that utilizes independent “free floating” distal tip sections that separate at a distal end of the catheter in order to reduce the likelihood of potential occlusion and “sucking” during dialysis treatment, hereinafter referred to as a “split-tip catheter.” Examples of patents and patent applications describing split-tip catheters include U.S. Pat. No. 6,001,079 to Pourchez, U.S. Pat. No. 6,758,836 to Zawacki, and co-pending U.S. patent application Ser. Nos. 10/371,774, filed Feb. 21, 2003, and Ser. No. 10/842,586, filed May 10, 2004, all of which are incorporated by reference herein.
While the split-tip catheter design has led to improved functioning of dialysis catheters, it has been difficult to manufacture a split-tip catheter having reinforcement along a length thereof due to the change in configuration at the distal end. As one of skill in the art readily appreciates, a reinforcing region is desirable in an implanted catheter to prevent kinking of the catheter and/or a reduction in the catheter lumen(s) due to external pressures. Accordingly, provided herein are improvements to the design and manufacture of a multi-lumen catheter, and in particular a split-tip catheter, with respect to reinforcement along a length thereof.
In accordance with the invention described herein, several embodiments are disclosed, which may be improvements to prior art split-tip catheters or may be novel catheter embodiments heretofore undisclosed. As used herein, the following terms have the following meanings:
“Reinforcing region” refers to the region or section of the catheter body which has been reinforced with a reinforcing element.
“Reinforcing element” refers to a material or materials that provide kink-resistance, columnar strength, etc. to the reinforcing region and includes, but is not limited to, a wire or wires, a coil or coils, braiding, or other reinforcement means. This term is not intended as limiting and should not be construed as such, for example, with respect to particular material(s), shapes, sizes, thicknesses, lengths and/or disposition thereof with respect to the catheter body.
“Septum” refers to a dividing element within a catheter body that defines separate lumens therein. The septum may be integrally formed with the catheter body or may be formed separately to be inserted within a lumen of the catheter body.
“Split-tip catheter” refers to a catheter having a body enclosing at least two lumens and a dividing point that separates at least two tip sections from one another distal thereto, each of the tip sections enclosing at least one lumen and being separated or separable from one another along their length.
“Dividing point” refers to a point along the length of the split-tip catheter distal to which at least two tip sections are separated or are separable from one another.
“Tip section” refers to a portion of the split-tip catheter, enclosing at least one lumen, which is separable or is separated from another tip section along its length distal to a dividing point.
In one embodiment, a multi-lumen catheter is provided with a septum having a cross-sectional thickness in a distal region that is greater than a cross-sectional thickness in a proximal region. The difference in septum thickness is provided to enhance functionability particular to the proximal and distal end of the catheter. Thus, the proximal region of the catheter will generally be constructed with a relatively thin septum to allow for better overall flow performance, while the distal region of the catheter will generally be constructed with a relatively thick septum to allow the catheter to be split and tipped in a secondary production procedure, which provides numerous manufacturing advantages. In particular, the septum distal region may be cut using a razor or other tool once the catheter has been constructed. In order to impart additional kink resistance and support to the septum proximal region, a reinforcing region may be provided over the outer wall of the catheter along at least a portion of the length of the septum proximal region. One noted advantage to such a design is that a catheter can be provided with different lumen cross-sectional areas along the length of the catheter without altering the catheter outer diameter, thereby minimizing the risk of air embolism during placement of the catheter through an introducer sheath when compared with a catheter in which the outer diameter varies along with the variation of lumen cross-sectional area.
A shrink down method can be utilized to produce the above-described embodiment. In one manufacturing variation, two D-shaped mandrels are placed within D-shaped lumens of a dual lumen catheter substrate (e.g., a tube having an outer wall enclosing a centrally positioned septum that defines two lumens having approximately the same size and shape). The cross-sectional shapes of the mandrels may be different at a proximal end and a distal end. For example, the distal end of at least one of the mandrels may be stepped or tapered such that the cross-sectional area of the distal end is less than that of the proximal end, thereby allowing for the formation of a thicker septum at the distal end of the catheter for reasons discussed above. A reinforcing element is then positioned over at least a proximal portion of the substrate and a sleeve is placed over the entire assembly. Shrink tubing is placed over the sleeve and heat is applied, causing the shrink tubing to compress the reinforcing element onto the underlying substrate, which in turn causes the inner lumens to conform to the mandrel shapes. Because the lumens tend to conform to the shape of the mandrels during this process, extra material may be added to a distal portion of the substrate over the stepped or tapered portion of the mandrels to ensure that the final outer diameter of the catheter remains constant. The extra material can be provided, for example, by an additional sleeve over the distal section of the substrate and/or by thin strips of polyurethane inserted into voids between the mandrels and septum wall in the lumens of the distal section where the mandrels extend. After heating, the shrink tubing is removed and a tipping process is performed. In one variation, the lumens are separated at the distal end of the catheter, for example, by cutting through the septum.
In another manufacturing variation of the present invention, the reinforced multi-lumen catheter is constructed utilizing two dual lumen substrates, including a proximal substrate having a relatively thin septum and a distal substrate having a relatively thick septum. Two D-shaped mandrels are placed through the lumens of the proximal substrate and into the proximal end of the distal substrate. The proximal and distal substrates are brought into contact with one another and a reinforcing element is disposed over the proximal substrate (and may overlap onto the distal substrate to fortify the bond between the proximal and distal substrates). A sleeve is then placed over the entire assembly and shrink tubing is placed over the sleeve. Heat is applied, causing the sleeve to melt onto the substrates and causing the inner lumens to conform to the mandrel shapes. The shrink tubing is then removed and the distal end of the catheter undergoes a tipping procedure.
In yet another manufacturing variation of the present invention, a reinforced split-tip catheter can be constructed utilizing a proximal dual lumen substrate and two separate D-shaped lumen substrates. Two D-shaped mandrels are placed through the lumens of the proximal substrate and into the proximal end of the distal substrates. The proximal and distal substrates are brought into contact with one another and a reinforcing element is disposed over the proximal substrate (and may overlap onto the distal substrate to fortify the bond between the proximal and distal substrates). A sleeve is then placed over the assembly, extending to a point proximal the distal end of the D-shaped lumen substrates and shrink tubing is placed over the sleeve. Heat is applied, causing the sleeve to melt onto the substrates and causing the inner lumens to conform to the mandrel shapes. The shrink tubing is then removed. The separate D-shaped lumen substrates should already be separated over their length distal to where the sleeve and shrink tubing extended and thus, further separation tipping procedures are not necessary. However, refinement of the tips and/or other finishing processing is possible.
It should be noted that the tensile strength of the bond between thick and thin septum sections may be improved by moving the bond to a location beneath the reinforcing element, meaning that the transition from thin to thick septum portion occurs within the reinforcing region in the above-described variations. This improved bond strength may be particularly useful in the case where two D-shaped lumen substrates are bonded onto a proximal dual lumen substrate.
In another embodiment of the present invention, a multi-lumen catheter is created by inserting an independently formed septum into a catheter body. The independently formed septum may exhibit varying longitudinal geometric and material properties to affect local properties along the length of the catheter assembly (i.e., bending stiffness, kink resistance, varying lumen area, etc.). For example, the septum could have a thicker distal end to facilitate tipping, as discussed above, or could be pre-split at a distal end thereof for the manufacture of a split-tip catheter. Other variations include altering the cross-sectional geometry of the septum to optimize flow.
In one manufacturing variation of the present invention, an independently formed septum is inserted into a lumen of a cylindrical tube that has been provided with a reinforcing element. There are various ways to assure that the septum and the tube fit tightly together prior to bonding. In one variation, a longitudinal strain can be applied to the septum during insertion in order to temporarily reduce the cross sectional area of the septum. Once the septum is in position within a lumen of the outer tube, the tension is released, allowing the septum to expand. The reinforcing element prevents the cylindrical tube from being deformed into an oval cross-sectional shape when the septum is allowed to expand. In another variation, the inner surface of the outer tube is modified (e.g., a notch or recessed area is provided) to accommodate the septum so that insertion thereof is facilitated without affecting the cross-sectional shape of the cylindrical tube. The septum is bonded to the cylindrical tube by chemical (e.g., solvent bonding), ultrasonic, heat-shrink, or other methods known to one of skill in the art.
In another manufacturing variation of the present invention, a first cylindrical tube is extruded and an independently formed septum is placed in the lumen of the first tube along with accompanying mandrels (e.g., a pair of D-shaped mandrels are placed on either side of a septum having a rectangular cross-sectional shape such that the cross-section of the septum and mandrels form a circle filling the lumen of the tube). A reinforcing element is then positioned over the assembly, followed by a second cylindrical tube. Shrink tubing is placed over the second cylindrical tube and heat is applied, melting the component parts together, encapsulating the reinforcing element between the first and second tubes and bonding the septum to the first tube. Thereafter, the mandrels are removed and further tipping procedures are performed as necessary.
In yet another manufacturing variation of the present invention, an independently formed septum and shaped mandrels are combined to form a core assembly (e.g., a pair of D-shaped mandrels are placed on either side of a septum having a rectangular cross-sectional shape such that the cross-section of the septum and mandrels form a circle filling the lumen of the tube). A coated reinforcing element is then wrapped around the core assembly and shrink tubing is placed thereover. Heat is then applied, compressing and heating the coated reinforcing element to melt the component parts together, after which the mandrels are removed and further tipping procedures are performed as necessary. Certainly, as is the case with all described embodiments herein, numerous variations are possible with respect to the physical properties (e.g., shape, size, material, etc.) of both the septum and mandrel(s).
In another embodiment of the present invention, a multi-lumen catheter is created using two thin-walled D-shaped lumen substrates and two D-shaped mandrels that are placed within each substrate such that the mandrels fit snugly therein. The substrates are then assembled together to form a circle in cross-section (i.e., the flat sides of each are adjoining) and a reinforcing element is positioned over the assembled substrates over a proximal portion thereof (i.e., a distal portion is left uncovered by the reinforcing element). A sleeve is placed over the entire assembly and a shim is inserted between the lumens at the distal end thereof (e.g., extending approximately 7-8 cm). Utilizing shrink tubing and heat, the assembly is then melted together, after which the mandrels and shrink tubing are removed. The result is a final product having an proximal outer diameter greater than a distal outer diameter. In one variation, instead of a single sleeve being placed over the assembly, two sleeves are employed, wherein a distal sleeve has a greater wall thickness than a proximal sleeve in order to produce a final product with substantially the same outer diameter. The sleeve portion that surrounds the channel formed by the shim is then slit, resulting in a split-tip distal section. The shim itself may have sharp edges to accomplish the slitting process. The shim can be made of metal (e.g., stainless steel), PTFE or other material with sufficient tensile strength and smoothness to enable the removal thereof following the heating process.
In one variation, the D-shaped lumen substrates are formed to have a thicker septum than wall (i.e., the flat side of the D-shaped substrate is thicker than the round side thereof). In another variation, a single D-shaped substrate is formed and is cut along its length to provide two D-shaped substrates. The lengths of the two substrates could be approximately the same or one could be longer than the other. In another variation, the mandrels placed within the lumens of the substrates could be shaped with a slight bow on the side that contacts the flat portion of the substrates to produce a septum that is slightly thicker at the top and bottom thereof, which results in a catheter better adapted for high negative pressure in that the arterial lumen is more resistant to deformation and collapse. During the assembling process, a fixture apparatus may be used to both hold the mandrels in place to avoid relative movement and to rotate the mandrels for disposition of the reinforcing element. Moreover, the manufacturing process may include a “pre-shrink” process in which hot air is blown over the assembly while the assembly is rotated. Further, the heating step herein may include the use of a convection oven, in which the temperature is set at the melt temperature of the sleeve or sleeves and the assembly is heated for a time sufficient to permit the material to flow.
These and other embodiments, features and advantages of the present invention will become more apparent to those skilled in the art when taken with reference to the following more detailed description of the invention in conjunction with the accompanying drawings that are first briefly described.
The following detailed description should be read with reference to the drawings, in which like elements in different drawings are identically numbered. The drawings, which are not necessarily to scale, depict selected preferred embodiments and are not intended to limit the scope of the invention. The detailed description illustrates by way of example, not by way of limitation, the principles of the invention. This description will clearly enable one skilled in the art to make and use the invention, and describes several embodiments, adaptations, variations, alternatives and uses of the invention, including what is presently believed to be the best mode of carrying out the invention.
It should be appreciated that while many of the designs and methods for making a multi-lumen catheter discussed herein are particular to a split-tip catheter, they would be equally applicable to other types of catheters. Therefore, the examples and embodiments provided herein should not act to limit the scope of the present invention to split-tip catheters. Further, while examples are provided herein with respect to materials for component parts of the described multi-lumen catheter, the invention should not be limited to these materials as numerous other materials not specifically mentioned herein, which are well-known to one of skill in the art, are equally contemplated for use in construction of the inventive catheter.
In addition, the description of the manufacture of a multi-lumen catheter herein focusses on the catheter body which comprises that region of a multi-lumen catheter distal to an extracorporeal connector (e.g., Y-connector, etc.) utilized to fluidly connect the catheter lumens to one or more devices outside of the body. Although not specifically described herein, the present invention is intended to encompass all types of connectors utilized in conjunction with multi-lumen catheters and therefore should not be limited to specific connectors or connector systems for use therewith. For example, while not specifically discussed herein, the multi-lumen catheter of the present invention could be formed with an integral connector at the proximal end thereof or could be constructed to accommodate an attachable/detachable connector, as described, for example, in commonly assigned co-pending U.S. patent application Ser. Nos. 10/803,207 and 10/803,512, filed Mar. 18, 2004, each of which are incorporated by reference herein.
In one variation for manufacturing a multi-lumen catheter of the present invention, a shrink down method is utilized, wherein the component parts of the catheter are assembled, shrink tubing is positioned over the component parts and the entire assembly is heated to melt the component parts together. The primary component parts utilized for the manufacture of a multi-lumen catheter of the present invention include, but are not limited to: one or more mandrels, one or more catheter body substrates, a septum within the one or more catheter body substrates that is either integrally formed with the substrate(s) or is a separately formed component to be inserted therein, a reinforcing element and one or more sleeves. Of course, depending on the particular embodiment, there are numerous other possible component parts, some of which will be discussed in detail below. Also, while not specifically discussed herein, one or more adhesive layers can be utilized to assist in the bonding of the component parts.
Examples of materials used for the catheter body substrates, septum and sleeves of the present invention include, but are not limited to, medical grade polyurethane including Carbothane® (e.g., Barium filled 85 Shore A), silicone, polyvinylchloride (PVC) and polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Examples of materials used for the shrink tubing include fluorinated ethylene propylene (FEP), PTFE and ethylenetetrafluoroethylene (ETFE). In one example, the mandrels are made of stainless steel and have a Teflon® coating disposed thereon to facilitate insertion and withdrawal into and out of the lumens of the catheter body substrate(s). The reinforcing element can comprise a wire, ribbon, etc. that is either braided or helically wrapped directly onto the catheter body substrate or that is first encased or surrounded by a polymer or other type of material along its length. Examples of possible materials for the reinforcing element include, but are not limited to, stainless steel, Nitinol, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), high density polyethylene (HDPE) and high durometer polyurethanes.
A cut-away view of an assembly of one variation of the present invention is illustrated in
As mentioned, a thicker septum at the distal end of a multi-lumen catheter according to the present invention provides certain advantages in facilitating tipping procedures following initial formation of the catheter body. For example, if a split-tip catheter is being produced, having a thicker distal septum eases the step of cutting the septum to create distal tip sections. Thus, as shown in
Following the insertion of the mandrels 31 into the lumens of the catheter body substrate 32, the reinforcing element 34 is positioned around the outer wall of the substrate 32, creating a reinforcing region 35. The reinforcing region 35 may extend from a proximal region of the catheter to a distal region thereof (making certain that the reinforcing region 35 does not extend past the desired location of the dividing point). In the variation shown in
Shrink tubing 39, which in one variation is sized to easily slide over sleeves 36, 38, is positioned over sleeve 36 and sleeve 38. The assembly 30 is then heated to a temperature suitable to compress the shrink tubing 39 onto the sleeves 36, 38, such that the reinforcing element is encapsulated between the outer wall of the catheter body substrate 32 and the sleeve 36, the lumens of the catheter body substrate 32 conform to the shapes of the mandrels, and the component parts of the assembly 30, including the strips 37, melt together to form a final catheter body. In one variation, FEP is utilized for the shrink tubing 39 and the assembly 30 is heated, for example in a convection oven, to a temperature of between approximately 300° C. and 360° C. for a time of between approximately 1 and 5 minutes. Following formation of the catheter body, the assembly 30 is permitted to cool at room temperature and the shrink tubing 39 is removed. Tipping procedures are then implemented, which include, but are not limited to: cutting the distal septum in a proximal direction to a pre-determined point, resulting in the formation of a dividing point and two distal tip sections, using tipping procedures known in the art to configure the tips to a desired geometry (e.g., using radio-frequency energy to round the tips) and forming side holes in the distal tip sections. Also, as discussed above, the catheter body can undergo additional manufacturing steps with respect to configuring the proximal end of the catheter to accommodate an attachable connector or connector system.
In one variation of the present invention, instead of a single catheter body substrate, two catheter body substrates are utilized to form the multi-lumen catheter as shown in
Once the mandrels 41 have been inserted, the proximal and distal catheter body substrates 42, 43 are brought into abutting relationship with one another and the reinforcing element 44 is positioned around the outer wall of at least a portion of the proximal catheter body substrate in order to provide rigidity due to the relative thinness of the septum thereof. In addition, the reinforcing element 44 may be positioned over at least the proximal end of the distal catheter body substrate 43 to improve the tensile strength of the bond between substrates 42, 43. In one variation, the reinforcing element 44 is positioned around a majority of the length of the proximal catheter body substrate 42 as well as a proximal region of the distal catheter body substrate 43. A sleeve 46 is then placed over the substrates 42, 43 and the reinforcing element 44, followed by shrink tubing, which is positioned over the sleeve 46. Heat is then applied to the assembly as discussed above and the shrink tubing is removed for further tipping procedures, if necessary.
In another variation, of the present invention, three catheter body substrates are utilized, as illustrated in
In another embodiment of the present invention, a multi-lumen catheter is created using an independently formed septum, which is inserted into a reinforced substrate. The reinforced substrate is produced by first providing a tubular substrate, which in one variation has a thin wall (e.g., a thickness of between approximately 0.003 in. and 0.020 in.), and positioning the substrate over a mandrel, such as a high density polyethylene (HDPE) mandrel. A reinforcing element is then disposed about the tubular substrate and adhered thereto by either embedding the reinforcing element in the wall of the substrate, utilizing an adhesive, positioning a sleeve over the reinforcing element and heating (as described above), or by other methods known to one of skill in the art. Next, as illustrated in
While the septum 64 has a uniform rectangular shape, there are numerous other possibilities for the septum shape, some of which are also illustrated in
In one manufacturing variation, insertion of the preformed septum 64, which is sized to fit snugly within the lumen of the reinforced substrate 62, is assisted by applying longitudinal pulling tension to the septum in order to stretch the septum 64 and slightly reduce its height. After insertion of the septum 64 into the lumen of the reinforced substrate 62, the tension is released, causing the septum 64 to resume to its natural height and fit tightly therein. The reinforcing element permits this action without resulting in deformation of the cross-sectional shape of the substrate by acting as a stabilizing force. In another variation, the top and bottom sides of the septum are curved or otherwise contoured to match the lumen inside diameter. In yet another variation, the tubular substrate is formed with septum accommodating features, such as notches or cut-away portions on the inner wall. Examples of potential embodiments of such features are illustrated in
Another embodiment of the present invention is illustrated in
In another embodiment of the present invention, illustrated in
The assembly to this point, in one variation, is heated to slightly embed or otherwise fix the reinforcing element 106 in place to prevent movement thereof during further processing steps. A sleeve 108 is then positioned over the entire assembly and, as shown in
After the sleeve or sleeves have been disposed around the reinforcing element 106 and substrates 102, shrink tubing is positioned thereover and the entire assembly 100 is heated to melt the component parts together. The heating step may comprise the use of a “pre-shrink” process in which hot air is blown over the assembly from one end to the other while the assembly is rotated, for example, through the use of the fixture apparatus described above. This process will eliminate any air that may exist in the space between the substrates 102. Following heating, the shrink tubing is removed from the assembly 100 and the sleeve portion that surrounds the shim 110, which is kept in place, is slit along the shim 110 to produce two distal tip sections. The shim 110 is then removed from the assembly 100. In one variation, the shim 110 has sharp edges to slit the sleeve or sleeves. The shim 110 is made of a material with sufficient tensile strength to maintain its profile during the heating process and with sufficient smoothness to enable the removal thereof following the heating process. Examples of potential materials for the shim 110 include stainless steel and PTFE.
This invention has been described and specific examples of the invention have been portrayed. While the invention has been described in terms of particular variations and illustrative figures, those of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the invention is not limited to the variations or figures described. In addition, where methods and steps described above indicate certain events occurring in certain order, those of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the ordering of certain steps may be modified and that such modifications are in accordance with the variations of the invention. Additionally, certain of the steps may be performed concurrently in a parallel process when possible, as well as performed sequentially as described above. Therefore, to the extent there are variations of the invention, which are within the spirit of the disclosure or equivalent to the inventions found in the claims, it is the intent that this patent will cover those variations as well. Finally, all publications and patent applications cited in this specification are herein incorporated by reference in their entirety as if each individual publication or patent application were specifically and individually put forth herein.