The medical device industry is exploding, right now, today, but to be honest, I don’t think we have seen anything yet. Healthcare is an industry that affects all of us, there is no escaping your body or the fact that at some point in your life you will likely benefit in some way from this industry so it is no surprise that this industry is where so many investment dollars are made.
But healthcare has been around forever, so why is it exploding now? There are many factors driving the rise of the Medical Devices industry but it is the miniaturization of technology paired with the interconnectivity of information, along with the emergence of advanced rapid manufacturing techniques that are really starting to push the envelope in this exciting field. Here are just a few examples of what is happening right now.
Body Parts – Lower cost prosthetics is one area that is really benefiting from rapid 3D Printing services. Lighter materials combined with smaller technology is also helping to drive more complex robotic limbs and exoskeletons. Parts for inside the body, from skull plates to hips are also on the rise. These are all replacement body parts made primarily from metals, plastics, and composite materials. The other area that is just in its infancy is the 3D Printing of organic living tissue body parts. That is a whole other level of wow that is partially here now with much more to come.
Virtual Reality – If you have been in a mall or airport in the past year then you have likely seen the rise of this technology as a fun consumer product which may or may not take hold, the jury is still out to see if it will go mainstream. But virtual reality as a medical device is already taking hold as a therapeutic remedy for PTSD, pain management tool, brain damage rehabilitation, and phantom limb pain treatment to name but a few medical uses. It is also a next-generation training tool for surgical students and Doctors. Virtual Reality is here to stay and will continue to grow as a medical device.
Disease Detection – This area is really driven by the miniaturization of technology and some fantastic scientific breakthroughs. Where medical devices come into play is by answering the problem of how to deliver the test, retrieve information, and analyze that information. As technology continues to shrink look for this area to grow exponentially over the coming decade.
Portable Diagnostic Medical Devices – Another area that is being driven by the miniaturization of technology. There are a lot of futuristic ideas kicking around right now, some will make it, some will not, everyone wants the Star Trek tricorder now, but that is likely decades away. Where this area is growing in the real world is by taking a new twist on old proven ideas by shrinking older lab-sized monitoring devices to portable sizes that patients can use at home is proving to be a real breakthrough in gathering vital patient information that is needed to formulate the best treatment options. The information gathered can be transmitted or downloaded to help speed up treatment resolution. In some cases, the portable medical device may be able to also deliver medical treatment in real time.
Surgical Tools & Medical Equipment – Historically these tools have been expensive and for good reason, you want higher quality materials and tight manufacturing tolerances for many of these tools. Today, with the ability to print some of these tools on-demand in a war setting or natural disaster setting or for an economically poorer jurisdiction has become a real benefit for better patient care. These next-generation rapid low-volume production techniques have also opened up profitability for highly niche tools through economical rapid manufacturing.
Wearable IoT Medical Devices – There are really two primary wearable medical device categories right now. 1) wearable consumer-focused medical devices with mostly fitness, healthy living, and healthy eating applications. 2) wearable medical devices that answer real day to day medical concerns. Devices that can help you monitor your blood pressure, manage your daily pill intake or blood sugar monitoring and management as a few examples.
The examples above are just the tip of the iceberg for the medical devices industry. As technology continues to shrink and evolve we will see this industry continue to break into subsections that will focus on highly regulated medical devices down to unregulated wellness consumer products and many categories in-between. To get a product to market the industry has embraced rapid manufacturing as a key partner in helping to launch products successfully. Particularly when you are developing a device that is highly regulated you need to shorten your product development process time so you can navigate through the regulation process faster and be able to adapt to changing regulations on the fly.
Medical Devices, a lot of old ideas in fantastic new delivery systems that really make that Star Trek tricorder seem a near possibility.