How Technology is Disrupting Medical Device Manufacturing

Medical device sales are booming, driven by technological advances and the needs of an aging population. The medical device market is one of the strongest segments of the economy for U.S. manufacturers, a Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation report shows. Demand for electromedical and medical equipment and supplies is strong, led by demand for devices for in vitro diagnostics, cardiology, orthopedics, diagnostic imaging and ophthalmics. The global market for medical devices will grow at 4.1 percent annually to 2020, reaching $477.5 billion at that time, projects Evaluate Ltd. As the market grows, new innovations are promoting a trend toward the integration of medical devices and home healthcare systems. To meet this growing demand, medical manufacturing is adapting disruptive technologies that are reshaping manufacturing as a whole and displacing established practices. Here’s a look at some of the disruptive trends that are transforming medical manufacturing.


Robotics is reshaping medical manufacturing in two major ways. First, demand for medical robots forms a major component of a rise in robotics sales, which surged 16 percent in 2015 to $2.2 billion and will grow to $22 billion by 2019. The biggest contributor to this growth is sales of medical robots for tasks including diagnostics, surgical assistance and rehabilitation. Sales value of medical robots is projected to grow to $7.2 billion.

Meanwhile, robots are revolutionizing manufacturing itself, including the manufacturing of medical devices. 59 percent of manufacturers are already using robotics to some degree, a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found. Today’s robots are nimble enough to assemble small parts, flexible enough to handle a variety of tasks rather than being dedicated to a single task and increasingly less expensive. Medical device manufacturers are finding the flexibility of multi-tasking robots useful for assembling hard-to-handle components, accelerating production and cutting costs.

Materials Science

Materials science, the discipline that applies science to the development of new materials, is another transformative influence on medical manufacturing. As developments in fields such as nanotechnology, chemistry and biomaterials have given manufacturers greater ability to create customized materials, medical manufacturing has benefited. For example, medical engineers have developed biomaterials from synthetic, natural plant and animal and hybrid sources for use in medical devices. One example is the use of implantable biosensors for the early detection of diabetes. University of Washington engineers have been developing asynthetic biomaterial that can prevent the body from rejecting implanted objects.

3-D Printing

3-D printing is another transformative technology reshaping medical manufacturing. 3-D printing is making it possible to create more customized medical devices for specialized applications. For instance, prosthetic knees must currently be manufactured in several different sizes and brought to hospitals for size selection before surgery. Then, the kits must be returned and re-sterilized before reuse. 3-D printing can enable custom knees to be specified to the fit of the individual patient. O-ring manufacturer Apple Rubber uses 3-D printing to manufacture a selection of over 7,000 customized medical o-rings.

Rapid Prototyping

One important application of 3-D printing for medical manufacturers is rapid prototyping, which uses 3-D computer modeling to create digital prototypes which can then be produced with 3-D printing. 3-D printing is the future of rapid prototyping, says Med Device Online executive editor Jim Pomager. By applying 3-D printing to rapid prototyping, manufacturers can create prototypes much more quickly and cheaply than with traditional methods, reducing the amount of time needed to bring products to market. For example, medical manufacturer Stratasys uses rapid prototyping to test device design on realistic anatomical models.

Cloud Technology

One of today’s most pervasive technologies is the cloud, which keeps millions of medical devices connected in cyberspace as part of the Internet of Things. Cloud usage in manufacturing and engineering will triple in 2017, participants in the Manufacturing ISV Cloud Summit projected. The cloud enables medical manufacturers to build products such as trackable mobile biosensors and remote imaging equipment. For example, Nuance’s PowerShare Network enables healthcare providers and patients to remotely share images in real-time over the cloud. Cloud tools such as Oracle’s Manufacturing Cloud also enable medical manufacturers to remotely supervise and track manufacturing processes.