Medical technology in Germany conquers new global markets

Interview with Dr. Thomas R. Dietrich, CEO of the IVAM Microtechnology Network

The medical technology sector is booming – and not only in Germany. This fact gives domestic medical technology companies the opportunity to tap into global markets. On the one hand, this demand is due to an aging society and the need to make therapies and surgeries more tolerable and cost-effective for patients on the other.


Photo: Dr. Thomas Dietrich

Dr. Thomas Dietrich; © IVAM

This is why the IVAM Microtechnology Network (German: Fachverband für Mikrotechnik) focuses on linking markets and providing market access outside of Europe. Dr. Thomas R. Dietrich, CEO of the IVAM Microtechnology Network, talks about the challenges that need to be mastered in this area and what potential China and Brazil offer German SMEs.

Dr. Dietrich, what trends and topics centering on miniaturization are affecting the medical technology sector?

Dr. Thomas R. Dietrich:
The aging society and the individualization of diagnostics and treatment are the big trends in medicine that now need to be implemented into technology. This makes sensors that measure vital signs just as necessary as active drug dosing systems. All of these components should be wearable and workable at home using a mobile "theranostic" device. This requires the development of respective microtech solutions that are operable by patients, are maintenance-free and facilitate the accurate evaluation of a patient’s health status. It should enable automatic therapeutic measures that are especially suited to the well-being of the patient, are designed to function optimally and simultaneously help to avoid unnecessary expenses. This is complemented by minimally-invasive surgical procedures that can only work with microtech grippers, tools, cameras etc.

Where are the largest markets and what opportunities do they provide for small and medium-sized companies?

Dietrich: Historically, the domestic market is the largest one for German medical device manufacturers: Germany and Europe. However, European countries are not the only ones confronted with the demographic change. Other industrialized countries are also an important market for the German industry. Emerging markets like China and Brazil are even more interesting. Here, the governments have already recognized a big need to catch up in their respective health care systems which they now want to directly balance with high-tech medicine. These countries are investing in their own medical technology industry. They have also recognized that demand can currently only be met through imports from industrialized countries, and support it by reducing import tariffs for example and promoting collaboration between domestic and foreign companies. Despite the currently slowed growth in countries like China and Brazil, it makes sense for German companies to establish contacts there now and to invest.

Photo: Freighter driving through a container harbor

IVAM’s main coordination task is to establish contacts between Japanese and German SMEs; © Kemle

Since August, IVAM coordinates the collaboration between North Rhine-Westphalian and Japanese SMEs in the medical technology sector. What challenges are there in terms of the internationalization of high-tech SMEs?

Dietrich: The problems and challenges facing the health care systems of Japan and Germany are comparable. The rapidly aging society in Japan also raises new issues ranging from how to maintain the quality of life in old age, mobile healthcare of patients all the way to financial plans still in development due to the demographic trends.

On the one hand, German high-tech SMEs have come to realize that they need to face the international competition. However, they also understand that their products are needed in markets like Japan.
The implementation is admittedly often difficult for SMEs. They are too small to establish their own subsidiaries. They lack the knowledge of markets and customer habits. Language barriers frequently make it impossible to directly negotiate with Japanese partners. Added to this in the medical field is the fact that licensing procedures oftentimes vary drastically compared to the well-known European processes.

Since Japanese small and medium-sized companies have the same issue when they enter the European market, the solution may lie in Japanese-German cooperation in which each partner is able to contribute its country-specific know-how. This is why IVAM’s main coordination task is to establish contacts between Japanese and German SMEs, both during trade fairs and through direct B2B meetings in both countries.
Photo: Product forum of IVAM at COMPAMED 2014

Already last year the product forum of IVAM IVAM Microtechnology Network was well attended; © IVAM

What significance does COMPAMED have for the Network in this case?

Dietrich: COMPAMED is the most important medical technology trade fair for the IVAM Microtechnology Network. It is the leading international trade fair for suppliers of the medical technology industry. Manufacturers from all over the world meet there to showcase their latest developments, to compare notes with peers and find cooperation partners.

It is also an important trade fair for the Network itself since it also enables us to get to know new partner networks, renew existing contacts and initiate the activities for the coming year for our members.

This year, the IVAM Product Market "High-tech for Medical Devices" in Hall 8a provides room for even more exhibitors. How international is the joint booth going to be this year? What opportunities does it provide companies?

Dietrich: The IVAM joint booth is as international as the trade fair itself. With 55 international exhibiting companies, it even beats the record set the previous year. During the entire trade fair, the booth will feature a lecture forum where the latest developments in the medical technology sector are presented in nearly 50 lectures.

Exhibiting companies get the chance to showcase their products. The international character also becomes apparent in a session featuring activities with and in Brazil. This session is being jointly prepared with the Brazilian Association of Medical Devices Manufacturers ABIMO. The VTT Research Institute once again offers a session on the activities in Finland, particularly, in the area of 3D printing of medical components. What’s more, together with NRW.International and the Düsseldorf Chamber of Commerce, IVAM organizes a German-Japanese workshop at the NRW booth.

In addition to the public activities, IVAM also prepares direct B2B meetings between exhibitors and their potential customers or suppliers from the different parts of the world.
Photo: Melanie Günther; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

The interview was conducted by Melanie Günther and translated by Elena O'Meara.