The future of medical technology: Carbon fiber reinforced materials

Interview with Dr. Wolfgang Sening, CEO of senetics healthcare group GmbH & Co. KG, Germany

Carbon is the raw material of the future. The medical technology industry could also benefit from it if the material and manufacturing costs wouldn’t be so incredibly high. That’s why the CarboMedTech network aims to put carbon fiber materials increasingly at the center of medical product development along the entire value chain by bundling competencies.


Photo: Dr. Wolfgang Sening

Dr. Wolfgang Sening; © senetics spoke with Dr. Wolfgang Sening, Managing Director of senetics healthcare group GmbH & Co. KG. The company is also the network’s management platform, which is sponsored by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (German: Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie) and specializes in carbon fiber reinforced materials.

What potential lies in carbon fiber reinforced materials for medical technology?

Dr. Wolfgang Sening:
Carbon gradually conquers medical technology. Currently, it is increasingly being used in prosthetic applications. However, medical technology encompasses additional sub-industries such as prevention, therapy, rehabilitation and clinical diagnostics. These areas have undreamed-of possibilities we would like to tap into with our CarboMedTech network. Whether it’s surgical instruments, hip joints or wheelchairs made from carbon fiber – there are no limits to the areas of application.

Carbon fiber reinforced materials are currently used primarily in materials science, for instance in aerospace, vehicle construction, for sports equipment or in construction. In what medical technology areas could carbon be used?

Until 2020, demand for carbon fiber reinforced materials for medical technology will increase significantly all over the world. Carbon is already being used in orthopedics, prosthetics and orthotics, meaning for artificial legs and arms. Surgical instruments and wheelchairs are also in part made from carbon fiber. What’s more, carbon is already built into medical devices such as angiographs and CT scanners for instance as well as being used in electromedicine, radiology and radiosurgery.
Photo: Powerpointpräsentation Siemens

The Kick-off-Meeting " Innovative materials in focus: Carbon fiber reinforced materials in medical technology industry" took place on December 2, 2014 in Erlangen. Among other things numerous network partners presented themselves and invited to networking; © senetics

What are the advantages compared to other comparable materials?

Carbon is lightweight and resistant to chemicals, corrosion and temperature. It is very moldable and still features high stability and rigidity. One big advantage is its X-ray transparency, which improves patient tolerance of X-rays. Carbon fibers are also suited for producing technical textiles. This makes the material ideal for use in medical technology.

Why are there only a few concrete applications so far?

Compared to other materials sciences, carbon fiber technology is still quite new and as a result still offers many corresponding future growth areas. What’s more, products made of carbon fiber reinforced materials are still relatively expensive, which is why we are still a little ways away from cost-effective products. Cost optimization of carbon products is one of the set goals we want to achieve in cooperation with all network partners. To utilize the described market and development potentials and further develop the already existing technologies and existing expertise of network partners, respectively, close collaboration along the entire value chain from production and development all the way to the market-ready product or process is needed.

Why was the CarboMedTech network created?

Companies from various disciplines partner up to bundle competencies within the context of the ”CarboMedTech – Innovative Materials and Processes for Medical Technology With a Focus on Carbon Fiber Reinforced Materials“ network. Collaborations are specifically initiated and promoted via the network management. In doing so, the existing know-how of the different partners and organizations can be condensed and coordinated. This creates synergies that provide access to the existing market potential for the small and medium-sized companies involved, despite their often limited financial and personal resources.

Photo: Representatives of different companies are talking

The kick-off meeting served as a platform for innovative ideas and for novel applications of carbon-fiber-reinforced material for all interested companies; © senetics

The network therefore aims to put carbon fiber materials increasingly at the center of medical product development along the entire value chain by bundling competencies.

Our vision is to establish the network as an independent and dynamic communications platform for the exchange of experiences and knowledge transfer in medical technology, the new materials sector as well as adjacent technical and commercial fields. Among other things, this includes the exchange of information and experiences through workshops, forums, symposiums and expert conferences as well as project initiations and connecting with other networks. The collaboration of the network partners results in an increase of skills for the individual partners to sustainably strengthen the market position and competitiveness of these companies.

Who is integrated in the network?

The CarboMedTech network partners can be divided into four groups with corresponding complementary competencies. The first group is made up of medical device companies, the second group features companies from the “new materials“ sector, the third group consists of companies focusing on cross-sectional technologies and the fourth group represents renowned universities or colleges. Aside from top research facilities such as the Technical University Munich and the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (German: Fraunhofer-Institut für Produktionstechnik und Automatisierung, IPA), many internationally active small and medium-sized companies are also members and associated partners of this network.

How is the implementation of carbon fiber reinforced materials meant to be established? Are there already any concrete projects?

New applications are being implemented and subsequently new markets entered within the scope of the network. There are currently concrete plans for new applications and manufacturing processes. These include production processes to increase stability for example, develop new component parts for weight reduction and comfortable prosthetics as well as the creation of software environments for medical component development. The production and development projects are intended to reduce manufacturing costs of carbon fiber reinforced products through technological and process solutions and create starting points for a full-fledged use of carbon products in medical technology.

Photo: Melanie Günther; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

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