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Medical devices: what does it mean for optics?

The medical device market continues its slow and steady growth—projected at 2.8% annually for the next five years—making it an attractive and sustainable space for optics companies positioned to fill emerging needs. But where exactly does your company fit?

Some of the biggest trends in medical device this year are promising for optical component manufacturers:

  1. Wearables—particularly in glucose monitoring, “sleep tech” and exercise trackers. This sector will see 2x the revenue growth of the overall device market, and made up $13.2B in 2016. Optics opportunity: Micro optics and optical components for laser machining, as this will drive demand for trepanning and micromachining. 3D printing of custom implants, prosthetics, and transplants will increase this demand. In fact, 40% of manufacturers are investing in laser machining in the coming year.
  2. Continuing pace of M&A activity. Consolidation can leave the future of your existing programs in question, but it can also open up new inroads into new product lines and divisions. Optics opportunity: Continue to market to your existing customers to share successes and capabilities. Email and social media are well-suited channels to increase penetration and raise awareness.
  3. Increased R&D. As medical device product launch speed increases, the demand for R&D may cause startups and larger corporations who’ve streamlined their R&D infrastructure to seek collaborative partnerships. Medical device R&D is projected to make up 7% of revenue on average in the near term. Optics opportunity: Companies with strong optical engineering capabilities and a well-defined process for qualifying opportunities and building partnerships will fare well. Case studies and internal research projects can help prove these capabilities.
  4. Robots, drones, AI, and AR/VR. Though adoption lags behind other industries, cost pressure, regulatory clearance, and current areas of focus like behavioral health may align to bring these technologies into use in the near term. Drones, or UAVs, show promise for delivery of healthcare goods to consumers and for emergency and disaster response. AR/VR shows promise for the treatment of sleep disorders, anxiety, depression and PTSD, for fitness and wellness gaming, and for medical training and scenario planning. AI can assist in remote patient diagnostics and monitoring. Optics opportunity: AR/VR and UAVs will demand high-volume, low-cost plastic optics. Medical device companies will value investment in robotics and automation as proof of capability. Rochester Precision Optics, for example, is already providing high volume optics for market leaders in this space.
  5. Hospital consolidation and significant clinic growth. Distributed infrastructure should drive volume demand in the “value” segment, with more versatility and smaller footprints. Optics opportunity: Improved optical assemblies will reduce size and cost of medical devices.

Ongoing trends such as innovation in telemedicine and disposables will continue to create significant opportunity as optics companies help tackle imaging and miniaturization challenges in these spaces. One startup partnered with an optics company to rethink the otoscope in a smartphone for examination of the ear and throat. Another molded optics company designed a smartphone-based spectrometer for life science applications, allowing for in-line food quality inspection. While time to production is particularly lengthy in medical device and life sciences, early stage involvement can build a long-term relationship and a steady growth market opportunity.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many medical device companies are still unaware that optics are a key driver in meeting their performance and design goals. Optics companies have the opportunity to educate on the principles, not just the product.

Finding your business’s “sweet spot” within the changing medtech landscape requires an investment in customer-focused research. By first understanding the needs of your customer base, you can optimize your product development as well as your marketing strategy.

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Source: By Michele Nichols, Launch Team Inc. laser focus world.