Distributors look to medical markets for growth in 2014

As the world market for consumer medical devices grows, distributors are sharpening their focus on medical electronics customers

Momentum is building in the medical electronics market, especially the drive to develop portable medical equipment for consumers. Future Electronics is one distributor poised to capitalize on that growth, with 10% of its roughly $7 billion in sales going to medical market customers today. Company leaders say that figure will rise considerably in the years ahead.

“There’s a significant opportunity in this marketplace,” says Future’s executive vice president Lindsley Ruth. “It’s still an area where there’s a lot of innovation going on.”

Such observations are in line with new data showing that the market for consumer medical devices is poised for steady growth through 2017. According to an October report from market researcher IHS Inc., global revenue for consumer medical devices will rise 4% this year to $8.2 billion, followed by 5% to 9% increases over the next five years (see the table). Most of that revenue will stem from growing demand for hearing aids, but other equipment such as blood glucose meters and blood pressure monitors will also play a role, IHS says.

Distributors and analysts agree that an aging population and a rise in lifestyle-related diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes are fueling market demand. All of those factors increase the need for health monitoring devices that can give patients and care givers greater flexibility and control over a wide range of conditions—a boon to distributors that specialize in providing electronic components and systems to power the devices.

“In a [relatively] flat overall market, we’ve seen better than average growth” in medical electronics, says Faris Aruri, vice president of corporate marketing for Massachusetts-based Sager Electronics.

He points to portability as a key factor driving innovation in the market.

“You see people wearing [medical devices] to test their blood after every meal, for example,” explains Aruri, adding that medical markets represent about 16% of Sager’s sales. “I just don’t see this [market] slowing down.”

Regional Demand Varies

As with other industries, time-to-market is accelerating in medical electronics, so customers are looking for supplier partners that can help them develop better products even faster than in the past. As a result, they are placing greater dependence on distributors for design assistance, inventory management, and product lifecycle management, Ruth says. These global trends reflect increased medical electronics business in just about every region, with design innovation concentrated in the Americas, Germany, Switzerland, and China, he adds.

End-market demand for specific products varies by region, though portable medical devices of all kinds are in demand everywhere. The IHS study points to China, India, Russia, and Africa as regions experiencing high growth in hypertension and other lifestyle-related diseases, for instance, which is creating greater demand for monitoring devices in those populations. Asia-Pacific is leading the way for growth in personal care devices such as activity monitors, body composition analyzers, and heart-rate monitors, the study shows. And among countries, Denmark and the United Kingdom are leaders in implementing telehealth—the remote supervision of health conditions via monitors and compatible devices.

Ruth agrees that demand is widespread, calling the portable medical devices market “a massive market that’s still in its infancy.” He points to a growing desire for in-home care in developed countries, for example, and increasing need for a wide range of products in under-developed regions.

“Third-world demand is enormous for even the most basic devices,” he says.

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