home Categoría general In the service of health – Plastics in medical technology

In the service of health – Plastics in medical technology

The trends at the K 2007 in Dusseldorf, from 24 to 31 october this year. 

German manufacturers of medical equipment achieved sales of almost EUR 15 billion in 2005, an increase of nine percent compared with 2004. It is therefore an attractive market which promises to continue to deliver above-average growth in the coming years. So itç—´ no surprise that more and more plastics processing companies are increasing their involvement in this area. They will have the opportunity to demonstrate and document their concepts and capabilities in the service of healthcare at K 2007, the International Trade Fair Plastics + Rubber to be staged in Dusseldorf from 24 to 31 October this year.
 The healthcare system in Germany is ailing. In the opinion of health expert Karl Lauterbach and other German social democrats, it not oï½­nly is overly expensive but also lacks in efficiency and competition. The latest reforms will hardly restore it to health. However, at least partial healing is set to come from an area which has hardly been part of the public consciousness so far: According to recent surveys, advances in medical technology and further process innovations could lead to significant savings in the German health system. According to initial rough estimates, the savings potential amounts to almost a billion euros.
 This is the finding of a recent study carried out jointly by Berlin Technical University, the management consultants Droege & Comp. and the industry association Spectaris. With reference to concrete examples, the study demonstrates that by using creative technologies significant direct and indirect cost savings are possible in the health sector. Universally accepted health policy, it concludes, should not be limited to simple cost reduction but must highlight alternatives and create the conditions for new technologies. After all, it cautions, the health sector in Germany is oï½­ne of the countryç—´ key sunrise industries, employing well over four million people, over ten percent of the total German workforce.

A billion-euro market
According to Spectaris, the German Industry Association for Optical, Medical and Mechatronical Technologies, Germanyç—´ more than 1,200 producers of medical equipment employed roughly 87,000 people and achieved sales of EUR 14.8 billion in 2005, an increase of around nine percent compared with 2004. The increase for 2006 will probably be of the same magnitude, taking sales to almost EUR 16 billion. However, the association stresses that the encouraging figures for 2005 are exclusively due to flourishing exports. They increased by almost 17 percent to a value of EUR 9.2 billion, while domestic business was in decline. The export rate of over 62 percent is a new record.
 Eucomed, the European umbrella association of the medical products industry based in Brussels, puts the world market for medical technology at EUR 184 billion at present. The USA accounts for roughly EUR 80 billion, Japan EUR 20 billion and Europe, oï½­ne of the fastest-growing sales regions, around EUR 55 billion. European countries spend oï½­n average 8.4 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) oï½­n healthcare each year. In Germany, the largest single market in Europe, as much as eleven percent of GDP goes into medical care in the broadest sense.
 In addition to metal, glass, ceramics etc, more and more plastics are being used in medical products. However this cannot be precisely quantified because classification presents a problem. What is certain is that lucrative growth opportunities are opening up for polymers in this field. With their specific properties, flexible design possibilities and not least low-cost processing, they offer definite advantages over conventional materials.
Eighty percent commodity
The attractiveness of polymers is also confirmed by the exhibits at ComPaMed, which is held in Dusseldorf each year from mid to end November in parallel with Medica, the worldç—´ largest medical trade fair. oï½­nce again in 2006, its 15th edition, ComPaMed lived up to its name as the international trade fair for components, parts and raw materials for medical manufacturing. Over 320 exhibitors from 25 nations attended the show, their exhibits documenting not just the growing focus oï½­n micro and nano technology in the medical supply sector but also the increasing importance of plastics in this field.
The share of plastics in medical equipment is currently put at just under 50 percent. An estimated 12,000 tonnes of plastics were used to make medical products in Germany last year. Worldwide, the figure was more than 1.8 million tonnes, according to a report by the trade magazine 適unststoff Trends? based in Darmstadt. This is oュnly slightly more than oュne percent of the current total world plastics consumption of 165 million tonnes, but the share is growing. Commodity plastics such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are the materials most used in this area, accounting for around 80 percent of total consumption. The remaining 20 percent are engineering plastics such as polycarbonate (PC), polyamide (PA), polyurethane (PUR), polyester (PET) and copolymers. Copolymers are materials such as ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) made up of two or more different monomers.
 Next to PE (just under 30 percent), PVC with around 29 percent remains oï½­ne of the most important materials in the healthcare segment, which in addition to medical technology also includes the pharmaceutical and hygiene sectors. PVC is used for example in the medical sector for infusion or dialysis bags, for a variety of tube systems, for oxygen tents, catheters and as packaging film for medicines. As an alternative to PVC, whose use is controversial, PP is increasingly making its mark with annual growth rates of seven percent.
 Among the engineering polymers, polycarbonate has claimed an outstanding position in the medical market, according to Bayer MaterialScience AG, Leverkusen. In 2004, more than 75,000 tonnes of this material were converted into medical products worldwide. Polycarbonate can also be used to make spectacle lenses, car windows and panels for noise control barriers. Its traditional applications in the medical sector include dialysers and blood oxygenators, while more recent applications include pressure-resistant ampoules for needle-less injection systems or inhalers for asthma sufferers. The latest uses include lab-on-a-chip devices as well as miniaturised analysis and diagnostic equipment as used to measure blood sugar or for protein analysis.

New activities
The prognosis for plastics in the medical sector is good and the prospect of further expansion in the years ahead is naturally arousing interest and causing increased business activity. For instance, G?tingen-based Sartorius AG acquired a 100 percent stake in Toha Plast GmbH at the beginning of 2007, having already bought a smaller production site in Puerto Rico last July. Toha Plast, set up by Thomas Hackel (hence the company name) employs a staff of around 75 to develop and produce plastic components for medical and biotechnology applications at its plant in G?tingen. The acquisition of Toha Plast, a longstanding supplier and development partner, is seen by Sartorius as a further step towards becoming 杜arket leader in the fast-growing market for disposable biopharmaceutical products?
In another example, Gerresheimer Glas AG recently took over Wilden AG of Regensburg, attracted not least by its attractive 溺edical Plastic Systems business. Headed by brothers Hans and Bert Wilden, Wilden AG generates more than two thirds of its total sales of EUR 240 million in the medical technology segment. The remaining third is injection-moulded products, mainly supplied to the car industry. For Axel Herberger, CEO of Gerresheimer, the purchase of Wilden with its over 2,300 employees is 殿 giant step forward in our strategy of generating sustainable growth through the acquisition of technology and market leaders in pharmaceutical packaging and pharmaceutical systems?
 Rehau AG from the slopes of the Fichtel mountains in Bavaria has a long history in medical technology. The company, mainly familiar for its building products, began producing silicone tubes for medical use back in the early 1950s. It established its own brand name Raumedic and established an independent company of the same name in 2004. This newly formed stock corporation currently has around 200 employees and is being further expanded. The brand new medical plant of Rehau sister company Raumedic AG was opened oï½­n the industrial estate of M?chberg in Upper Franconia at the end of 2005. Here oï½­n the A9 motorway, around EUR 20 million was invested in new buildings and the latest clean-room manufacturing technology.
The trend continues
Oechsler AG of Ansbach in Middle Franconia has produced and delivered over 50 million parts for inhalers made from different types of plastic impressive evidence of the companyç—´ longstanding experience in the medical supply field. But that is by no means all. Last year it set up a new division, Oechsler Med, to expand its business the more clinical area and beyond. The pharmaceutical industry is now among its targets. Oechsler intends to invest several million euros in the new division in the coming years to significantly increase sales of medical and pharmaceutical technology, which in 2005 accounted for roughly 15 percent of the companyç—´ total sales. 
 Whether itç—´ Sartorius, Oechsler, Rehau or Gerresheimer Glas, all companies active in the medical technology field are convinced that the trend towards higher demand and higher sales in the healthcare sector will continue in the years ahead. At the same time they believe that nanotechnology and above all microsystems will play an increasingly important role in the future. Erich Wintermantel, a university trained doctor and engineer, can oï½­nly confirm this prognosis. The professor of medical technology at Munich Technical University sees miniaturisation, among other things, oï½­n the increase in medical equipment in the medium term. Microtechnology and nanotechnology will grow in importance. Wintermantel believes however that the substitution of metals by plastics will take longer than for example the development of miniature implants, which will have reached technical maturity and be available very soon.
 The industry can already point to initial success. For example tiny dosage devices made partly of plastic are already being used as implants in dentistry or in the gastrointestinal tract. At ComPaMed 2006 in Dusseldorf, a tiny plastic pump was unveiled measuring oï½­nly five millimetres in height and 25 millimetres in diameter. Smaller than a cent piece, micro pumps such as those presented by the Dortmund-based company Bartels are making mobile insulin dosage units ever smaller. They also are used in artificial sphincter implants to open and close the bowel. Weighing less than a gram, they are made from the high-tech material polyphenylene sulfone (PPSU) and can be produced at low cost by injection moulding. And this illustrates oï½­nce again oï½­ne of the major advantages of polymer materials, not just for medical technology. Armin Hossinger, managing director of whr Hossinger Kunststofftechnik GmbH in Roding-Mitterdorf, Bavaria and another exhibitor at ComPaMed, has no doubt that the trend towards plastics will continue because the parts can be made in high volumes at low cost. This is likely to be confirmed oï½­nce again at K 2007.
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