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Medical sector remainshealthy bet for processors



Barrier TPE alloy from GLS aims to compete in medical device and pharmaceutical packaging, replacing the extra step of lamination or the use of thermoset rubbers that require special washing processes to eliminate the crosslinking agent and heavy metals.



Precision medical device molding, here from Spang & Brands (Friedrichsdorf, Germany), is in high demand around the world as concern for improved healthcare takes effect.

The global medical device market, a high user of plastics, was valued at $165 billion last year, according to Applied Market Information (Wyomissing, PA).
About 54% of all devices are used in North America, with 25% in Western Europe, and Asia-Pacific, which is growing fast, is at 17%. Much of the need derives from an aging global population. Analysts at Freedonia Group (Cleveland, OH) report that world pharmaceutical packaging demand is predicted to rise by 5.9%/yr through 2011. This $25.8 billion market will have to rely on an increasing employment of plastics in innovative applications since competitive materials cannot satisfy the high barrier demands.
Germany’s IVAM, a professional association for microtechnology (Dortmund), says that according to its latest survey, medical technology is on top of the ranking list of the continent’s MEMS (micro-electro mechanical systems) industry’s most important targeted markets.
It says micro and medical technology are growing together and driving each other toward new developments. Processors who can accommodate such needs should benefit greatly, reports IVAM.
The Association for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies (Frankfurt, Germany) says medical technology remains the third most important driver of innovation. Europe, and in particular Germany, are leaders in this field, according to the association. With more than 70% of the world’s technical experts, Europe can claim to have the highest innovative capacity in medical technology.
Where are the hot future markets for processors? One area to watch is the integration of disposable electronics into pharmaceutical product packages, which is intended to make products more convenient, simpler, and safer. Printed RFID tags, to replace barcodes, on ‘intelligent’ plastics packaging are said to provide more detailed information for the seller and user. Conductive printing inks on plastics can offer more possibilities than just RFID antennas.
The chip and even the power source can be printed on the packaging. However, the requirements for printing electrically conductive structures are more demanding than for raster-type, classical processes. Organic electronics need functional structures with coating thicknesses as strong as possible, yet less than 300 nm on homogeneous, defect-free plastics surfaces for fine line spacings. The American market research institute IDTechEx (Cambridge, MA) expects turnover for polymer electronics, which in 2005 was about $650 million, to grow to $15 billion by 2015.
Another area to watch for medical device technology processors could be medical implants. Market observers say that in the future, plastics and metal implants might be equipped with several acceleration sensors and a telemetry module to better identify signs of loosening. Shown at last month’s ComPaMED trade show in Düsseldorf, Germany, this novel sensor technology could form the backbone for a type of quality-assurance system for hip and knee joint implants.
The technology results from ongoing miniaturization of plastics medical devices. The impacts that are unfavorable to patients could be detected and eliminated at an early stage. This would avoid lengthy X-ray examinations, which are a burden on the tissue, as well as preclude premature replacement operations.
Another demand for plastics in medical applications is forecast to focus on high-precision components that still qualify for low-cost production. One such product, also shown at the ComPaMED show, is a family of plastics inhalers that allows patients to absorb a variety of active agents, including insulin, via the respiratory tract rather than by means of more expensive and often painful injections.
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