Tuesday, June 26, 2012 | Matthew Scherer and Brice Esplin, Databeans Inc.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of SMT Magazine.
Despite claims to the contrary, the medical electronics semiconductor market has hardly been recession-proof, especially with regard to the high-volume home medical segment. In fact, the entire medical semiconductor market has largely followed the same ups and downs as the rest of the semiconductor industry, with total shipments declining slightly in 2011 after spiking in 2010. Also, for 2012, year-to-year growth should be much in line with the previous year. However, over the next several years it is projected that this will continue to be a high-growth market, with demand spurred on by a wave of new government-approved ultra-portable and implantable products and booming regional demand from emerging areas such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC), as well as sustained demand from more mature regions such as the EU, Japan, and the U.S.
Table 1: Worldwide medical semiconductor market forecast.
While innovation is crucial in this market, medical electronics must be primarily designed for the long term, with many applications requiring long-life platforms that are available for 10 years or more. With this in mind, system developers must select those components that will not only have a life cycle through the longer-than-usual design cycle (which can exceed 12 months), but also through a potentially lengthy FDA approval and as many as 10 years of production. Safety and reliability are two other features that must be included in component designs, as failure could have potentially life-threatening repercussions for the consumer. Finally, chip suppliers must also contend with the high operating and R&D costs, rising competition, and stringent government regulations in this industry. But despite these restraints, the medical market will continue to be a lucrative and fast-growing source of sales for those firms that choose to remain.
The most prevalent area of innovation includes portable medical electronics, in which most products are currently going through lengthy governmental approvals. Many of these items, such as the new Withings Blood Pressure Monitor, are meant to improve patient monitoring while they are separated from physicians. The Withings monitor is on the leading edge of a large group of medical devices that will be aimed at keeping a large amount of real-time statistics for physicians to analyze. A majority of these innovations are being integrated into cell phone applications to improve accessibility. This adoption of portable monitoring equipment is contributing to the growth in medical sensors revenue. The sensors and MEMS segment will likely experience a 9% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the next five years.