Innovation, performance, quality and price are important factors influencing the use of polymers in medical devices. Although polymer prices are set to increase gradually, they are, nevertheless, expected to replace other materials like glass and metals. Therefore, the ability to engineer and customise polymers according to varied application needs will create lucrative opportunities. A report by Frost & Sullivan- Western European Market for Polymers in Medical Devices, finds that the market earned revenues of EUR 602 mln in 2011 and estimates this to reach EUR 1075.4 mln in 2018, boosted by the increasing replacement of other materials by polymers in medical devices. The research covers a range of product segments including polyvinyl chloride (PVC), silicone, styrene, thermoplastic elastomers and engineering and high performance polymers. "A rapidly greying population with its attendant healthcare needs will have a positive impact on the medical devices market and, by extension, on polymers used in such equipment," noted Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Tridisha Goswami. "This will be reinforced by the uptake of increasingly sophisticated equipment by the healthcare industry and the growing importance of portable, impact-resistant medical devices that can be used in homecare settings." Already, polymers with higher chemical and impact resistance, superior mechanical and thermal properties have become the material of choice for most medical applications like medical tubing, wound care, adhesives and lubricants. The healthcare industry is exhibiting increased interest in miniaturisation, homecare, and aesthetics for medical devices. Polymers which have exceptional durability, flexibility and strength, and can also be dyed in any colour, meet such demands. Polymers also fulfil the need for lightweight, portable, smaller-sized devices. In comparison to other verticals, such as automotive and construction, polymers in healthcare is a low-volume market. However, it offers opportunities for higher margins and, moreover, is less tied to GDP growth. "It has to be noted though that governmental pressure to lower healthcare costs are likely to limit profit margins of polymer suppliers," cautioned Goswami. "The market is highly regulated and product development is expensive and time consuming." Despite being low-volume, the market is defined by high competition and innovation. Efforts to advance polymer functionality and diversify the application base will help companies establish their presence in the market. "Competition is intense and market participants have to diversify their product lines and be a one-stop-solution for all healthcare material needs," advised Goswami. "Manufacturers should focus on developing novel, high quality products that meet the particular needs of varied applications."