“Digitisation presents great opportunities for the healthcare sector in an increasingly ageing society in which a growing number people suffer from chronic illnesses. Digitisation can help diseases to be detected earlier, the duration of hospital stays to be reduced and people's mobility to be extended with the aid of tele-medicine, apps or care robots,” writes the German Medical Association BVMed. The healthcare and medical-technology industries are talking more and more about digitisation, the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0. That is because these topics have become highly relevant to suppliers who work with medical-technology providers. New developments in the ‘mega-trend’ of digitisation will as a consequence also be shaping the COMPAMED 2016 in Düsseldorf. Again with more than 750 exhibitors, the internationally leading industry platform for suppliers to the medical-technology industry will this year be celebrating its 25th anniversary and will be taking place alongside the world's largest medical trade fair – MEDICA 2016 (approx. 5,000 exhibitors) – in Halls 8a and 8b at the Düsseldorf exhibition centre from 14 to 17 November.
The reservations concerning digitisation that have to date been encountered in the medical-technology sector are mainly a consequence of the special structures that exist in the field: “The sector is dominated by small and medium-sized businesses. And they are finding it difficult to identify the potential that networked factories have to offer,” explains Dr Jens Nitsche, Director Research & Development at the consulting firm Ingenics. The situation, however, appears to be changing for the upcoming COMPAMED, as the IVAM Microtechnology Network, which particularly represents small and medium-sized businesses, has discovered: “A trend that we are currently seeing is 'digitisation'. Mobile health applications, the ‘Internet of Things’, ‘wearables’ and smart implants and textiles are playing an increasingly significant role in the product market that IVAM serves. That is why we once again want to give manufacturers of such miniaturised electronic components as sensors and actuators strong representation at our joint IVAM stand,” says Mona Okroy-Hellweg, IVAM Spokesperson. The Network which will this year again be hosting around 50 companies at its joint stand in Hall 8a at the COMPAMED. “Advancing digitisation in the healthcare sector is currently also shaping activities in the development of medical products,” confirms Joachim Schäfer, CEO at Messe Düsseldorf.
Interoperable sensors and actuators for optimal networking
The newly founded Information Technology Society (ITG) within the VDE, the German Association for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies, expects that ‘user-oriented, secure, dynamic systems in the healthcare sector’ will in future use interoperable sensors and actuators on patients to capture and digitise data relating to such parameters as weight, blood pressure, temperature, activity and ECGs and then transfer them via the intranet or Internet. This will make it possible to record the progress of patients' well-being in different environments. The captured data will make it possible to create and deliver services via the intranet or Internet and provide recommendations for action, e.g. to take some exercise or medicine. They will also detect which measures helped improve the health condition. This would, for example, allow a service generated from the collected health data to assess the success of interventions on the basis of medical criteria (guidelines) and so provide the best possible therapy.
“Such services would use interoperable interfaces to connect the various manufacturer-independent components and devices to smart mobile devices. In the next stage, performance-assessment software would continuously analyse the progress of measures and improve the healthcare that is being provided,” explains Johannes Dehm, standardisation expert for medical technology at the VDE, outlining possible future scenarios. The digitised transformation of different types of data generated by different sensors and actuators would, in compliance with the telematics infrastructure (data security), allow these systems to inform all involved along the healthcare chain about important parameters – in almost real time. This scenario would permit many developments and products to be derived for the companies taking part in the COMPAMED as exhibitors.
Every third person in Germany is already using a health app
Without a doubt, mobile applications that deliver health services through mobile communications devices are on the rise. Health apps are becoming more and more popular. There are around 100,000 apps alone in the narrower field of healthcare that are also being marketed increasingly by medical-technology companies. Almost half a million products are available through app stores, the number of downloads exceeded the three-billion mark in 2015 – a figure that has doubled in just two years. A survey by the Bertelsmann Foundation found that 30% of people in Germany have already installed health apps on their smartphones. The BVMed has found that they are employed for improving health competence, providing analyses, gaining new findings and awareness, indirect interventions through the continuous recording and analysis of health-related information, on-line courses, the documentation of health and illness histories, the organisation and management of processes as well as the purchase and delivery through on-line pharmacies.
The world's smallest differential pressure sensor – which Sensirion will be presenting at the COMPAMED 2016 – will be ideally suited for such mobile applications, particularly in the field of respiration. The digital component's size of only five times eight times five millimetres will allow it to be installed in devices which previously did not have the space for sensors to be fitted in them. The small sensor will also make it possible to significantly reduce the size of existing devices. Besides its minimum dimensions, the ‘SDP3x’ differential pressure sensor also convinces with outstanding precision and long-term stability as well as with the fact that it is also free from zero-point drift. That is why the sensor is ideally suited for measuring flow behaviours in bypass configurations. It is being assumed that the new sensor will be employed in medical devices used for home care, in portable medical devices and intelligent inhalers. The SDP3x works with the latest generation of CMOSens sensor chips and lies at the heart of Sensirion's new sensor platform for measuring differential pressure and mass air flow.
3D printing set to revolutionise medical technology
“Whether in research, industrial manufacturing or in hospitals: 3D printing is set to revolutionise medical technology,” says Kathrin Schäfer, Editor of DeviceMed Magazine, which has for years cooperated with Messe Düsseldorf to stage the COMPAMED SUPPLIERS FORUM. The ‘LightFlex’ research project, for instance, which is being carried out by the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (IPT) in cooperation with a variety of industrial partners, is an example of how the process is changing the field. It is a project aimed at manufacturing medical prostheses using a combination of 3D printing and fibre-composite technologies. Fibre-reinforced injection-moulded components are associated with one great disadvantage: It is very difficult to adapt them to individual wishes and requirements. It is usually only possible to produce them in large quantities because the corresponding tools are expensive and inflexible. Which is why injection-moulded components are increasingly being replaced by ones produced with the help of additive manufacturing: 3D printing makes it possible to individualise and functionalise almost any component before it is combined with a thermoplastic fibre-composite plastic to help it achieve the required load-bearing capacities. Since 2004, the market for additive manufacturing has been growing by around 20% per year (source: Wohlers Report 2016) – this strong growth, also driven by medical-technology applications, is expected to continue in future years.
International growth market: Flow cytometry
The international market for flow cytometry has grown by more than 10% a year over the last five years. The latest forecasts (e.g. by Acute Market Reports) estimate that market volumes will continue to expand and will reach values of five billion euros by the year 2020. This growth is being driven by the increasing demand for single-cell analyses – for instance in personalised cancer therapy.
‘Liquid biopsies’ currently represent a promising approach for diagnostics, monitoring and individualised therapy in the field of cancer treatment. This type of biopsy permits cancer-associated biomarkers to be detected in conventional blood samples. These include freely circulating tumour cells (CTCs), circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) and exosomes. The subsequent ‘Next Generation Sequencing’ and sequence analyses of the biomarkers' nucleic acids will then as a consequence permit individualised therapy measures.
It is against this backdrop that the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology – Institute for Micro-technology Mainz (ITC-IMM), which is working within the Ci3 lead cluster, has developed the ‘CTCelect’ device for extracting single tumour cells from full blood and storing them in the wells of mictrotiter plates. The device spans the arc between sampling and single-cell analysis, achieving very high target-cell yields (> 75%) and very high target-cell purities. Automation allows great reproducibility to be achieved, which initially will be ideal for tumour research and then later for use in therapy management within the framework of personalised medicine. In 2014, the ICT-IMM was able to positively validate all the significant components within the 'CTCelect' system so that system integration could then follow in 2015. “The CTCelect system, our platform technology for processing and analysing samples within the scope of liquid biopsies will be the highlight among our exhibits at this year's COMPAMED," explains Dr Michael Baßler, who is responsible for the system at the ITC-IMM.
Ultra-short pulse lasers as tools for materials processing
Light as a tool remains an ongoing topic of interest at COMPAMED. Micreon, for instance, is one of the world's most renowned contract manufacturers and technology consultants for microprocessing using ultra-short pulse lasers that operate in the picosecond and femtosecond ranges. Working with these types of laser permits processing qualities to be achieved that are significantly higher than those that can be realised with conventional laser technologies. “Our laser technology has the advantage that it reaches precisions of one micrometre and hardly damages any of the solid materials it is used on at all,” explains Dr Frank Korte, CEO and Head of Research and Development at Micreon. Ultra-short pulse lasers are characterised by the fact that the energy is concentrated locally in the solid material to such an extent that it is possible to directly ionise it without damaging the surrounding areas. Micreon has focused its laser micro-machining processes on precision cutting, micro grilling and structuring. The quality of the cut edges and insignificant damage to the component material are just two aspects that deliver great benefits to the production of stents made from biopolymers.
COMPAMED broke another record last year with 18,800 visitors. Many product developers, production managers and purchasing decision-makers are again expected at this year's event in Halls 8a and 8b. Besides the presentations by exhibitors, one of the highlights for visitors will be a trip to the two established forums. The COMPAMED High-Tech Forum, which is being organised by IVAM (Hall 8a), for instance, will be staging an entire session focusing on ‘wearable electronics’, while the COMPAMED Suppliers Forum by DeviceMed will, among other things, be presenting the topics of ‘Benefits and challenges of 3D printing’ and ‘Industry 4.0 and medical technology: New business models for manufacturers’.
Author reference: Klaus Jopp, freelance technical writer for science and technology (Hamburg)