Canada’s biggest trade event for medical and dental devices wasn’t, well, that big.
What it lacked in size, though, it more than made up for in innovation, with the latest and greatest from some of the brightest stars in Canada’s expanding medical device industry.
And in a way, the show is a metaphor for the industry itself, SME Canada medical industry manager Lauralyn McDaniel says of the $7-billion a year field, which is growing but still far from its potential.
“I think it absolutely is true,” McDaniel says of the analogy.
Held at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ont., the two-day Medical Manufacturing Innovations (MMI) event in October presented by SME Canada fit into one hall, with a few dozen companies and organizations represented on the show floor.
One of the innovations that dominated the show was additive manufacturing.
While not new to the medical industry—the technology has been used in the field for close to 30 years—additive manufacturing has come a long way, McDaniel says, and can be used for a variety of devices and implants.
“It’s always been a great fit for medical because we’re talking about people and personalizing things for people,” she says. “One of the areas it made its first impact in the consumer market was hearing aids, (and) today, almost every hearing aid shell that is made is made with additive technologies.”
With a handful of exhibitors specializing in additive manufacturing (also known as 3-D printing or rapid prototyping) on display at the show, the technology has expanded far beyond hearing aid casings.
Companies like Proto3000 use 3-D printers to create intricate physical models incorporating different textures and material densities on one object to simulate different parts of the human anatomy.
Other companies at the show, like Solid Concepts, have expanded into metals to cater to the implant side of the industry.
As Solid Concepts regional account manager John MacDonald explains, the ability to texture metals allows for limitless applications of the technology, including artificial joint replacements that allow for cells to grow around the textured pieces.
“The thing with the implants is that rough (surfaces) allow the growth of the human tissue onto the part beforehand,” he says.
MacDonald says metals aren’t just used for rough surfaces, but rather can be tailor-made for each use.
“Depending on the application, we can manufacture whatever (surface),” he says. “The advantage is they can scan the original body parts and they can create specifically to that part.”
According to McDaniel, injection molding is also revolutionizing the world of implants, replacing plastics with metals to increase product life and wear.
“One of the other things I’ve seen is the development of metal injection molding, which when you think about additive with metals and metal injection molding, they both start with powder metals,” she says.
The process is making its mark particularly in Ontario, she says, where low-volume-high-value production is picking up steam.
According to McDaniel, 3-D printing technology is also being matched with another growing innovation to increase its capabilities.
“Another way additive is making a difference is combining it with 3-D imaging to actually print implants,” she says, noting skull implants as one area the technologies are working well together.
Another emerging technology, she says, is micro manufacturing, or microfabrication, more traditionally used in the making of microchips.
“If you think about that, a human hair is 80 to 100 microns in width,” McDaniel says. “We’re talking about being able to drill holes or to mold things that are a few microns in size.”
Regardless of what technology Canadian medical firms are working in, though, McDaniel says there’s one key ingredient to all their successes.
“If we look at medical manufacturing and which medical device companies are successful, they’re the ones driven by innovation,” she says.
Despite the innovations found in Canada’s medical device sector—and at the MMI show—McDaniel described it as a growing market that still relies heavily on imports.
“If I look at the medical devices manufactured in Canada, there are more exported than there are used in Canada,” she says. “If I bring in the imports to Canada, there’s more used in Canada than produced in Canada.”
While some may consider this point a negative, McDaniel it’s a market ripe for the picking.
“There is such opportunity in Canada just to meet Canada’s needs,” she says.
Still, McDaniel compares Canada’s medical device industry—and in particular Ontario’s—to two global hotspots.
“What I see being developed as far as medical devices in Ontario is similar to what’s being developed in Minneapolis and the San Jose, (Calif.), which are two of the leading and most innovative centres of medical device manufacturing in the world,” McDaniel says.
That leaves the door open for a lot of manufacturers looking to expand their business, she says, particularly those working in aerospace and automotive, where the crossover would be most seamless.
So as the Canadian medical industry grows, the MMI show grows, too, tied rather closely together.
“This is different than (bigger shows),” McDaniel says of the biannual event. “We’re not only selling exhibit space, we’re selling the medical manufacturing market in Canada.”