Industry 4.0 has launched technologies across numerous industries that have changed the way that we live our lives, and this couldn’t be more true than it is for the medical device field. From cochlear implants to continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), patients across the globe are benefiting from advanced technology.

Primarily, there are two ways in which medical devices are changing for the future; they are getting smaller (and therefore less invasive) and they are getting smarter (and integrated into our digital age). For medical wire components, this means that manufacturers are demanding much finer wire that still has the appropriate strength and fatigue resistance, as well as requiring much more advanced sensing and transmitting capabilities.

How will future medical devices be used?

Remote monitoring devices, such as CGM, has been a growing market for years, especially in regions with ageing populations. Over the past year, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of this market due to the high number of patients who need to remain at home. In fact, GlobalData market insight expects “the remote patients monitoring (RPM) market to double over the next five years.” Remote monitoring has been made possible with the development of high-quality medical wire that is able to sense and transmit within the human body, where data such as blood sugar levels or heart rate are monitored and sent to an electronic device, allowing the patient to self-monitor or for data to be sent directly to a physician.

According to Gary Davies, head of business unit Medical within the business area Sandvik Materials Technology, another area of advanced technology that can benefit the medical device field is radio-frequency identification (RFID) tagging: “A lot of the devices that are now being used have some kind of RFID included so that information can be transmitted easily, and the location of a medical device can be tracked.”

In 2014, the value of the global RFID in healthcare market was US$646.7 million, and by next year it is expected to be worth $4.9 billion. RFID is already being utilised by the medical field for inventory management, and for medical devices this means that they can be tracked from the manufacturing stage. This way, information such as life-cycle, sterilisation and maintenance requirements can be monitored. RFID tagging can also allow physicians to access important patient medical records with a scan, preventing the risk of records getting mixed up or incorrect treatments being administered.

“Medical devices are getting smaller and minimally invasive,” Davies continues, “and these miniaturised RFIDs are being incorporated into the devices, so that the location of the device itself when inserted or implanted is known in a 3D space, so we’re seeing an increase in the capabilities of robotic surgeries. For these kinds of applications, you need ultra-fine wires that can be tightly coiled.

“There are a lot of devices now where they’re trying to incorporate a lot of different functionality into these composite wire-based products, and I think the next step for the next evolution is really going to make these wires a smarter or a more sensory type based device.”

Sensory technology and 3D imaging is also being used in medical devices used to treat phantom limb pain. These devices use electrodes that capture muscular activity and decode these movements to visualise them onscreen.

In addition to monitoring, smart wires with sensory abilities can go one step further. As with many industries, the medical device sector is seeing a shift towards preventative action, rather than reactive. This means that therapeutic devices will be able to sense and alert patients and physicians of health issues (such as heart failures) before they occur.

With these exciting advancements on the horizon, now is the ideal time to form partnerships with medical device component experts to work together and design a product that can change patients’ lives.

For more information about fine medical wire branded Exera from Sandvik, download the white paper below.