Composites Fuel Growth in the Medical Industry

by:David Afshar

Composite materials are used for engineering components in virtually every industry in the world. Versatile and durable, composites help produce parts that are stronger, lighter, and more resistant to corrosion than their metal counterparts. The medical industry in particular has been transformed by composites; currently valued at approximately $330 billion, the medical device market continues to experience rapid growth and innovation due in no small part to composite materials. This is widely expected to continue in coming decades as materials become cheaper and easier to manufacture. Let’s take a closer look at the reasons for the coming medical composite boom.

The medical industry demands composites

Lightweight materials are constantly in demand in just about every industry imaginable. Much lighter than metals and alloys, composite tools are easier to use and take less of a physical toll on the operator. They’re also far more resistant to corrosion, making them ideal for surgical instruments and biocompatible implants. The combination of carbon fiber and PEEK, for example, is commonly used for surgical tools due to its chemical resistance, thermal stability, radiolucency, and lightweight strength.

Current stats

At the time of this writing, diagnostic imaging makes up the largest share of the medical composites market at 40% - and this number is expected to grow. The fastest growing share is orthopedics, which accounts for roughly a quarter of the current market. The US is the leading supplier of composites to the medical field, making up over a third of the market worldwide.

The future of medical composites

Engineers have already begun making exciting advancements in prosthetic limbs as new composite materials are developed. The prosthetics market is currently valued at around $2.8 billion, and the advent of 3D printing has allowed for more complex devices to be produced faster and at lower cost than traditional components.

In addition to medical tools and devices, composite materials are also aiding in the fight against cancer. Researchers at Yale University recently demonstrated that tiny imperfections in carbon nanotubes (CNT) can provide an ideal surface for growing cancer-fighting cells; CNT polymer composites are now being used to incubate cytotoxic T-cells that attack cancer cells. This technique is currently being tested in an emerging treatment called adoptive immunotherapy.

And this is just the start. Over the next several decades, composite materials will play a significant role in the development of new medical technologies and treatments. For a closer look at how composites are already transforming the medical field, explore Greene Tweed’s precision-molded thermoplastic components for x-ray applications, medical tools, surgical instruments, and other hospital equipment.