The following representatives of Covestro shared their views on the topic:
Mah: This is an exciting time in the wearables market as there has been a convergence of technologies to greatly aid in the manufacture of these products. New materials and technologies have emerged, including conductive inks and fabrics, thermoplastic polyurethane films that can be printed with conductive inks, thermoformable foams, the miniaturisation of sensors, 3D-printed plastics, and innovative skin attachments and new interface technologies.
Hamilton: Wearable devices are dramatically improving the patient experience, leading to increased global adoption and volume – reliable raw material supply chains are critical to this growth.
Walton: We see a trend towards smaller batteries and alternative power sources, such as solar and kinetic power, along with the influence of data transmission and IoT advancements on new antenna and 5G technologies. There has been increased initiative from the government, academia and businesses to incentivise collaboration along the supply chain, with the goal of accelerating the introduction of commercially viable products. An increasing number of material suppliers and manufacturers are also working to accommodate the wide range of volume requirements.Â
Hamilton: Data transmission and data security (e.g., balancing consumer and patient privacy with data analytics) are prominent challenges facing the industry. The growth of wearables sheds light on design challenges, such as the light weighting of devices, as well as new production needs. For example, manufacturers need to produce thin-wall plastic parts in mass quantities by leveraging experience from the consumer electronics market. Additionally, as devices move out of the hospital and into the home, there are new design challenges to ensure reliability and durability at price points that support widespread adoption. Global, multi-site production of high-volume medical wearable devices requires careful planning for product consistency around the world.Â
Mah: As many industries move towards a more circular economy, integrating sustainability in the life cycle of wearables is increasingly important. Itâ€™s also critical to implement industry standards and for materials to undergo the necessary testing for skin requirements and/or biocompatibility.
Mah: Human factors and interfaces play a key role in the functionality of wearable devices. These design elements include ease of placement or positioning (e.g., locations with minimal movement or abrasion), low trauma attachment, ease of use, minimised effect on day-to-day anatomical movement or interaction with clothing and bedding, and low trauma removal. To ensure comfort for patients, wearables must also be lightweight and feature a low-profile thickness and minimal surface area with a small yet safe power source. Overall, consistency and reliability are key, from accurate data transmission to physical durability.
Walton: Cost is also a critical factor for any consumer-facing medical wearable device and can be easily achieved as a result of recent material and process developments.
Mah: Wearables and industry 4.0 go hand-in-hand as both are driven by connectivity to external sources, including smart phones, computers, the cloud, hospital IT systems, etc. This revolution has contributed to sensor measurement, software analytics and algorithms to interpret advice or provide a diagnosis. The ability to record and store information on both the devices and on the external appliances will allow for communication to the healthcare provider and ensure compliance with medical prescriptions and remote diagnoses. Additionally, wearables are inherently about data capture. Industry 4.0 has played an integral role in developing data transmission security and privacy by ensuring these features are clearly established and expectations are communicated.
Hamilton: The implementation of 5G will allow data to be seamlessly communicated between all necessary partiesâ€”from patients to healthcare providers to medical devices and more.
Hamilton: Innovation in wearables will grow for the foreseeable future fueled by a patient focus on wellness and preventative medicine and constrained only by the technical challenges of consolidating biometric measurement systems into unobtrusive devices. Wearables will require their own ecosystem of devices that go beyond traditional applications, and advanced communication technologies like 5G will be especially impactful on wearablesâ€™ ability to interact with the surrounding world. Additionally, low-volume, specialised equipment currently found in hospitals and clinics will be superseded by high-volume wearables.
Mah: Future technologies may increase the need for new plastic materials, such as conductive or resistive foams, and as smarter wearables emerge, they may replace current technologies, including watches, bandages and EKG/EEG tabs. Existing device moulders, manufacturers and medical converters of flexible materials are well-positioned, but gaps in materials production and manufacturing will need to be filled as certain devices gain traction.