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Plastics win, metals and glass lose in medical device material battle

Polymers are increasingly expected to replace other materials like glass and metals in medical devices, despite gradual increases in their prices. A new analysis from Frost & Sullivan states that "the ability to engineer and customize polymers according to varied application needs will create lucrative opportunities." How lucrative?

The consulting business's new report, Western European Market for Polymers in Medical Devices, states that after the market earned revenues of EUR 602 million ($743 million) in 2011, it is projected nearly double in seven years' time to EUR 1.075 billion (1.328 billion) in 2018.

This growth will be boosted by the increasing replacement of other materials in medical devices by polymers, with plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC), silicone, thermoplastic elastomers and engineering and high performance polymers all winning new applications.

Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Tridisha Goswami sees growth impacted by three factors:

  • A rapidly greying population
  • Increasingly sophisticated equipment
  • Portable, impact-resistant medical devices suitable for homecare settings

"Competition is intense and market participants have to diversify their product lines and be a one-stop-solution for all healthcare material needs," Goswami stated in a release. "Manufacturers should focus on developing novel, high quality products that meet the particular needs of varied applications."

The report found that polymers with higher chemical and impact resistance, superior mechanical and thermal properties have become "the material of choice" for medical applications like medical tubing, wound care, adhesives, and lubricants.

Medical device design is also increasingly emphasizing miniaturization, homecare, and aesthetics. Enter polymers, which Frost & Sullivan says have exceptional durability, flexibility, and strength, as well as the ability to be colored while permitting lightweight, portable, smaller-sized devices.

The report also said that in comparison to other verticals, such as automotive and construction, polymers in healthcare represents a low-volume market, but one that provides opportunities for higher margins and, moreover, is less tied to GDP growth.

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