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Growing application of engineering plastics in medical implants

Growing application of engineering plastics in medical implants

The medical polymers market was valued at US$9.8 bln in 2013 and is likely to reach US$17.13 bln by 2020, expanding at a CAGR of 8.3% during 2014 and 2020. In terms of volume, the global demand for medical polymers stood at 4,864.2 kilo tons in 2013, as per Transparency Market Research. Growth in global population, rise in consumer awareness regarding general well-being and advancements in polymer science have been some of the key factors driving the medical polymers market over the past few years. Increasing substitution of traditional materials such as metals and glass with plastics in applications such as medical devices and equipment has significantly boosted the medical polymers market over the past few years. This trend is expected to continue during the forecast period. Additionally, rising trend of consumers opting for home healthcare treatments coupled with increase in aging population is anticipated to boost market growth. However, stringent regulations regarding new product launches in the sensitive healthcare industry are estimated to hamper market growth. Furthermore, fluctuation in prices of raw material (crude oil) is expected to affect the prices of polymers, leading to shortages and price increases. Fibers and resins was the largest product type of the medical polymers market in 2013. The segment accounted for over 85% of the volume share in 2013 led by their wide usage in the manufacture of devices, equipment and packaging. However, biodegradable plastics are expected to witness the fastest growth over the next few years owing to increasing demand for biocompatible polymers, particularly for implants. - Medical devices and equipment was the largest area of application in the market, accounting for over 47% share of the overall volume in 2013, due to high demand for disposable medical equipment. However, medical packaging is anticipated to witness the fastest growth during the forecast period due to rising demand for lightweight packaging materials that offer ease of printing and transport. North America and Europe were the largest regional markets for medical polymers in 2013. Together, these regions accounted for over 65% of the global volume share in 2013. However, Asia Pacific is likely to be the fastest growing market during the forecast period primarily due to shift in manufacturing activities from western countries to countries such as India and China.

As per Research and Markets, rising demand for medical devices, increasing preference for home healthcare treatment and growth in ageing population are some of the key factors likely to boost demand for medical polymers. Additionally, rising usage of disposable medical devices is expected to augment demand for medical polymers. Over the past few years, polymers have been increasingly substituting traditional materials such as metals in packaging of medical devices, equipment and pharmaceuticals owing to their biocompatibility and lightness in weight. Polymers such as resins and fibers, elastomers such as natural rubber and thermoplastic elastomers and biodegradable plastics used in various forms in medical and healthcare applications are collectively known as medical polymers. Traditionally, metals, glass and ceramics have been used as medical implants, devices and supports. However, polymers are more suitable for these applications due to lesser weight, better biocompatibility and lower cost. Medical polymers are used majorly in devices and equipment such as spinal implants, hip & joint replacements, and implants for cranial injuries. These are also used in various types of medical packaging.
Fibers and resins used as medical polymers include materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), polystyrene (PS) and others such as nylon, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyamide (PA). Medical elastomers such as styrene block copolymers (SBCs), polyurethane (PU), natural rubber or latex, silicone and butyl rubber are used in numerous applications in implants and joint replacements. Legislative issues regarding the supply side of the medical polymers market were one or the primary concerns of material suppliers.  However, the onus of responsibility has been transferred onto component and device manufacturers by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) of late. This has helped material suppliers produce extensive grades of medical polymers for numerous purposes. Commodity resins such as PE, PP, PVC, PS and PET are the most widely used polymers in medical applications. These account for majority of the market share. At the same time, demand for other materials such as nylon, polycarbonate (PC) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is expected to increase in the near future.

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.

As per Frost & Sullivan, the Western European market for polymers in medical devices finds that the market earned revenues of €602 mln in 2011 and estimates this to reach €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. 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"

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