The medical plastics sector enjoyed monumental growth in 2016 with an upsurge in wearable technology, ultrasound OEMs, thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs), and even polyolefins. Materials and emerging technologies are credited for these gains, so with the new year upon us, let’s look at what we can take away from medical technology trends in the last year.
Polyolefin Demand Increased
As a nonporous, odorless plastic used primarily in structural applications, polyolefins have become the go-to material primarily due to rising health care material costs. Because polyolefins are inexpensive, pharmaceutical packaging and syringes are two common uses for polyolefin plastic. In 2016, the orthopedic market utilized polyolefin instead of metal and glass, with companies such as Borealis Healthcare gaining market share in the specialized polyolefin market with products such as Bormed SB815MO. Polyolefins could potentially be used in the prosthetic market in the coming years.
Wearable Tech Grows
Fitbit dominated the wearable health technology world, offering a means to measure heart rate and steps taken on a given day along with calories burned. Health professionals are closely monitoring a wearable vital sign monitor produced by SensiumVitals that is lauded for its ability to send early warning signs of myocardial infarctions and other health problems detectable within the human pulse. A wearable ultrasound machine capable of delivering images on demand regardless of patient location could be in the foreseeable future, an amazing accomplishment for a sector once dominated by fitness professionals.
Three-dimensional Printing Tech Steady
Three-dimensional printing has already proven to save lives, according to the news that one man was able to save his wife’s sight by manufacturing a tumor (that’s right, a tumor) shortly after a misdiagnosis. By using a 3D printer, Michael Balzer was able to model a diagnosis that saved his wife from having a complicated procedure. No longer are science-fiction films the only place where the technology of this magnitude exists; medical technology can now send models to specialists around the world who, in turn, can provide a more focused prognosis. Three-dimensional printing may one day have the capacity to sculpt artificial organs when science catches up with technology.
Ultrasound Market Jumps
Radiology equipment, such as echocardiogram machines and handheld ultrasound equipment, led a growing 3D and 4D imaging technology market in 2016. With once expensive radiology equipment finally diving due to a more competitive manufacturing space, the multibillion-dollar ultrasound business is expected to double by 2020. GE Healthcare and Philips spearheaded the growth, with companies such as Esaote, Siemens, Hitachi Aloka, and Analogic poised to produce competitive ultrasound equipment that will disrupt the ultrasound tech field.
Thermoplastic Elastomers On the Rise
TPEs, comprising a physical mix of rubber and plastic, are now the preferred material of medical device manufacturers. Most commonly used in the injection molding process, these widely available copolymers work wonders in medical applications that require flexibility. PVC, silicone, and latex are the more common thermoplastic materials produced, which in turn create facemasks, tubing, and other versatile medical products vital to daily operations. This type of material is efficient to produce and cost effective enough to manufacture frequently.
Medical technology has only begun to show its actual potential, and with growth in manufacturing processes and availability of materials, expect supply to outweigh demand in the medical technology world of 2017. Physicians are especially excited about the potential for quicker diagnoses and imaging, both of which could save more lives.