Top Trends Affecting the Future of Medical Product Manufacturing

May 10, 2018

Medical product manufacturing, an industry at the crossroads of manufacturing and medicine, is rapidly evolving despite the fact it’s one of the most heavily regulated industries. Advances in materials, processes, and biological research are all occurring simultaneously, providing fertile ground for inspiring new medical devices as well as applications for existing products. In the midst of all this progress, there are four trends which deserve special attention.

OEM Consolidation
Companies in almost all industries benefit from economies of scale, becoming more efficient and therefore more competitive as their size increases. This is especially true of the medical device industry, where long lead times and regulatory requirements combine to make organic growth a far Medical_Products_blurred_background-1less attractive way to scale than mergers and acquisitions. The result: a recent spate of merger-mania in the industry.

With increased scale, come increased production capacity and broadened product portfolios, both key to expanding an OEM’s customer base. In a Medical Design & Outsourcing article from last year, Jeffery Stanton - TE Connectivity’s medical sales and marketing VP, explained why this is so vital to OEMs: “Mega-mergers and acquisitions are a route to achieving scale and efficiency while positioning for success by delivering the widest portfolio of products to hospital buyer groups.”  

This OEM consolidation will continue to put pressure on medical device contract manufacturers (CMs), as larger global OEMs require efficient and high-throughput CMs to satisfy their large institutional customers.

The Shift to Minimally Invasive Treatments
While the current medical device ecosystem clearly favors larger companies, a trend in healthcare is forcing the devices themselves to become smaller. The trend towards minimally invasive treatments (laparoscopic procedures and increasing use of catheters, for example), definitely benefits patients since generally, discomfort is less, risk of infection is lower, and recovery times are shorter than with more intense interventions.

While this trend pushes medical devices to become increasingly miniaturized, the global market for this technology is huge and getting bigger: it’s expected to reach $50 billion by 2020.

Since these minimally invasive treatments will rely on devices like catheters which are inserted into the patient, there will be increased demand for devices that are both clean and biocompatible. Cleanroom injection molding will be one of the key niche capabilities that will allow OEMs to seize this revenue opportunity and improve patient outcomes at the same time.  

Additive Manufacturing
The use of additive manufacturing (aka “3D printing”) in the medical product manufacturing industry will continue to expand well beyond the rapid prototyping of proof-of-concept parts. As the sector grows and becomes more popular, these technologies will become more robust, more 3D printing materials will get approved for medical applications, and regulatory guidance will start catching up.

Companies that already supply materials and machines for additive manufacturing in other industries, will continue to expand into medical devices. One example is Solvay, who recently had one of their unfilled grades of polyamide 6 (PA6) materials used for selective laser sintering (SLS), pass compliance testing for Class VI medical applications.

Across many segments of manufacturing, a common picture is emerging: the shop floor of the future will require both people and robots. Collaborative robots (“cobots”) by design are intended to be used right alongside human workers. Equipped with advanced control software and a plethora of visual and force sensors, they can often be safely deployed on the factory floor without a protective cage.

In addition to the safety features of these cobots, they are more affordable than traditional industrial robots and can be programmed more easily. While robotics and automation in general can perform repetitive labor without fatigue, humans offer adaptability without limit. This translates to less variation for automated processes, but faster continuous improvement. Only medical device manufacturers who can deliver both, like Crescent Industries, will be able to survive and succeed in this competitive industry.

Taken together, these four trends illustrate how multiple business, technological, and medical forces are pushing medical product manufacturing to innovate and adapt to a challenging, but promising future.

Cobots and Medical Device Manufacturing: