The following medical manufacturing trends represent both the causes of this growth and the industry’s solutions for capitalizing on it.
1. Wearables Create New Form Factors and Opportunities
Industry analysts expect the wearable medical device market to grow even more quickly than medical manufacturing in general. Wearables are set for 27.9 percent growth each year until at least 2027.
A recent study found 58 percent of polled subjects were comfortable using wearable health technology. This means designers and manufacturers of medical devices have lots of opportunities to stake a claim in an important market.
Each of these opportunities represents a chance at significant business diversification and growth, including:
- Wearable technologies for keeping employees safe at the workplace or jobsite
- At-home wearables for patients who can’t travel
- Worn devices for children to help parents and caregivers keep track of them
- Biosensors to collect real-time data on patients in unpredictable or unstable conditions
Research shows that some worn biosensors could reduce patient deterioration by 89 percent and make it much more likely doctors can intervene before respiratory or cardiac arrest.
The technology and medical worlds are already deeply connected, but their mutually beneficial relationship will only grow closer in 2020.
2. New Materials and Design Languages
Growth in the wearable and mobile technology sectors won’t just create new product categories for designers and manufacturers to experiment with. It also raises the bar regarding material choices and designing products for long and productive lifespans.
The next several years of development in medical manufacturing will be an “arms race” as companies work to deliver solutions for:
- Novel ways to manage heat and battery life in miniaturized wearable technologies such as sensors, implants, wrist bands, and watches.
- Compact and durable product housings for use in rugged environments, such as distribution facilities, the military, and healthcare settings.
- Flexible and semiflexible programmable logic boards to affix each component securely without sacrificing shock absorption or the durability of the finished product.
Researchers and material suppliers are always finding new formulas and combinations that solve problems or combine effectively with current methods. Medical manufacturers must know how to spot useful and novel materials to meet these needs. Those that do will position themselves well to compete in crowded and growing markets.
One example is using thermoplastics and coated fabrics to create flexible products that offer strength and leak-proof performance even while housing sensitive electronics. The most weldable flexible materials available today feature what are known as "polar molecular properties." This is what gives them their weldability. A manufacturer may employ RF welding to create practically seamless joins in the material, making it suitable to house a flexible PCB or something similar, and unlocking considerable "worn computing" potential.
Other examples involve taking materials already common in medical manufacturing and using new techniques to improve them. Nickel is a high-performing metal common in medical devices, but a hybrid fabrication technique developed at Purdue University further enhances its strength, corrosion resistance, and ductility. Without Purdue's or other new techniques, nickel is prone to localizing stress and corrosion along the areas where its crystalline grains abut one another. The team's electrodeposition technique has implications in several industries, including micro-electro-mechanical devices such as medical implants.
3. Additive Manufacturing Streamlines and Personalizes Healthcare
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is now a permanent part of the world’s healthcare apparatus. A market analysis from SmarTech Publishing estimates that, by 2026, close to 3.2 million 3D-printed medical implants may be in use throughout the world.
The wider accessibility of additive manufacturing means medical device companies have lots of opportunities for growth and expansion. 3D printing lends itself perfectly to bespoke medical devices as well as limited runs of products aimed at smaller, less historically profitable groups of patients with unmet needs.
The opportunities unlocked by 3D printers extend to the manufacture and delivery of customized medicines, too. Spritam became the first FDA-approved 3D-printed drug in 2016. This sector is now set for rapid growth, reaching $278 million in 2020 and $522 million in 2030 by sustaining a 6.5 percent CAGR.
4. New Regulations and Standards Increase Opportunity
Neither manufacturing nor technology exists in a vacuum. They influence and are influenced by regulations and standards drawn up by governments and industry groups.
The European Union will see several new or revised regulations take effect in 2020 that directly impact medical device manufacturers. One way the EU’s new rules affect the worldwide medical manufacturing industry is by raising the bar for supply chain traceability and individual device identification.
Of course, the approach to regulating the design and manufacture of medical devices is not consistent around the world.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced at the end of 2019 it was relaxing premarket review requirements for many medical product categories. These categories include plastic surgery, urology, ophthalmology, radiology, neurology, gynecology, cardiology, and many others.
Some argue the FDA should be tightening, rather than loosening, the approval process for medical devices and other products. For manufacturers, though, the opportunity this represents is clear.
The FDA has cleared the way for hundreds of Class I and Class II medical products to reach customers’ hands more quickly than they previously would have. This is a chance manufacturers will likely be keen to capitalize on throughout 2020 and well beyond.
Other Factors Leading to Growth in Medical Manufacturing
Many other factors are impacting medical manufacturing and bringing about growth. One of these is the aging of the global population. The UN notes that “virtually every country in the world” is seeing its proportion of elderly citizens increase. This demographic shift is a major opportunity for the industry to capitalize on.
It’s hard to understate the influence of new manufacturing technologies, including the Internet of Things. Manufacturers have unique methods for verifying the quality of products as well as the cleanliness of the manufacturing environment, including ultrasonic cleaning and automated inspections.
Perpetual growth in any industry is far from guaranteed, but this combination of influences means big changes as well as major opportunities for companies in this sector.
Megan Ray Nichols is a science writer and the editor of Schooled By Science. Her work regularly appears on Real Clear Science, Manufacturing.net, and Astronaut.com. Keep up with Megan by following her on Twitter.