How medical devices are disrupting manufacturing

December 7, 2016 OpenSystems Media

The mobile device market is booming – and it’s transforming the face of manufacturing in the process.

The global medical device market is on track to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.6 percent between now and 2021 to reach a value of $343 billion, Lucintel projects. Cardiovascular devices, surgical and infection control devices, home healthcare devices, and general medical devices will all see strong growth. Underpinning this growth will be parallel growth in the medical device contract manufacturing market, projected to grow at a CAGR of 10.3 percent from 2016 to 2021 to reach over $77 billion. This period of rapid growth will also see the transformation of the medical manufacturing industry, and through it, manufacturing itself. Here are some of the trends in medical device production that are driving the disruption of manufacturing.

Cloud technology

One important application of cloud technology for medical manufacturers is increasing the efficiency of the clinical trial process while reducing costs, says a Kelly Services report. Using traditional methods, a manufacturer producing a device that costs $25,000 may spend $10 million on clinical trials. Much of this cost comes from the need to collect a large range of images from different sources distributed throughout different locations. Legacy systems traditionally used for this purpose can become overloaded with data, slowing transfer and decreasing efficiency.

Using the cloud makes it easier to collect data from patients at different locations, speeds up data transfer, and eliminates the costs of on-premises infrastructure and software. As more patients begin wearing mobile medical devices, this will enable medical research and development to accelerate more rapidly than ever before by pooling data from mobile users through the cloud. Apple’s ResearchKit open source framework is being used in this way to build a medical research database from data volunteered by iPhone users around the world for use in assisting medical app developers.

Materials science

Advances in areas such as biomaterials, chemistry, and nanotechnology are enabling manufacturers to produce customized materials that facilitate innovative medical applications. For instance, CSIRO is using biological knowledge to develop biocompatible coatings, which make implants less likely to be rejected by the body. Polymethyl methacrylate, a thermoplastic acrylic resin, is being explored as a packaging material to make devices more biocompatible with being implanted in the bladder.

3D printing

Because 3D-printed objects are produced from a digital file, it’s easy for designers to make adjustments without the need for additional tools or equipment, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Manufacturers can also easily adapt designs to the specifics of patient anatomy, making 3D printing ideal for devices such as prosthetics, cranial implants, and artificial organs. Similarly, manufactures can print medical instruments to very precise customized specifications. Manufacturer Apple Rubber, for example, uses 3-D printing to help it provide customized O-rings in 7,000 different sizes for applications such as medical seals.

Robotics

As robots have grown more sophisticated, they have become flexible enough to be adjusted for handling multiple tasks on assembly lines rather than just a single task. Meanwhile, they have become better able to manipulate small parts, as well as less expensive. These qualities are making robots useful for manufacturing components that are difficult to handle, reports Qmed. For example, Fanuc’s M-1iA robot can handle assembly processes on the scale of 10 to 20 micrometers, with a repeatability within 0.02 millimeters.

Rapid Prototyping and production

Technologies such as 3D printing and robotic assembly lines are also making it easier for manufacturers to rapidly develop prototypes and go into production. 3D computer modeling can be used to create digital designs, which can then be 3D-printed. This process enables manufactures to bring products to the prototype phase much faster and less expensively than traditional methods allow, ultimately enabling companies to bring designs into production faster. For instance, 3D printing provider ProtoCam had a client who needed a handheld device for medical testing on NASA space shuttle flights, with a tight launch schedule dictating rapid production. After improving on the initial design, ProtoCam was able to go into production just two days after receiving the design. This ability to accelerate through the prototyping stage and rapidly enter production gives innovative companies the power to disrupt markets by bringing new products to market faster than the competition can catch up.

Roy Rasmussen is a technical expert currently authoring quality content for technology audiences. His most recent projects include articles and books on cloud computing and network security. He is the coauthor of Publishing for Publicity.

Roy Rasmussen, Publishing for Publicity
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