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.
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 less 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.
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.
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.
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: