Disposable, monitoring devices spur MEMS pressure sensors in medical electronics

November 8, 2012 – Growing use of disposable devices and respiratory monitoring are underpinning growing use of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) used as pressure sensors in medical electronics, according to IHS iSuppli.

Medical electronics is a relatively small slice of the overall market for MEMS pressure sensors. Sales of such devices are seen rising 6%-7% this year to $137.6M, with steady growth continuing through 2016. But they’re in the "high-value" category where suppliers can command much higher average selling prices, so it’s a more profitable and attractive market, points out Richard Dixon, principal analyst for MEMS & sensors at IHS. (Another high-value MEMS category, industrial and military/aerospace, will rake in about $283M this year.)

Worldwide high-value MEMS pressure sensor revenue forecast, in US $M. (Source: IHS iSuppli)

Pressure sensors are poised to become the leading type of MEMS device, generating $1.5B in revenue. In medical applications the technology is found in accurate low-pressure measurement devices. They are particularly seen as a low-cost consumable for invasive applications such as the monitoring of blood pressure. The most common medical pressure sensor is the disposable catheter to monitor blood pressure and micro vascular resistance in the vicinity of the heart. Another type of disposable (and low-cost) MEMS pressure sensor is the infusion pump, used to introduce fluids, medication, or nutrients into a patient’s circulatory system — 60M units of these devices were shipped in 2011.

MEMS pressure sensors also have use in non-invasive applications where they are reusable and cost considerably more. The biggest category in this segment is respiratory monitoring, such as the Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP), used mainly to treat sleep apnea at home. (The US is the main market for such devices, since the treatment is included in healthcare programs, iSuppli notes.) Another application is in oxygen therapy machines, incorporating both a low-pressure and high-pressure sensor, to administer or increase the amount of oxygen in a patient’s blood. This application is growing given the aging population and increase in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Another respiratory-use market, though currently small, is in ventilators to treat lung injuries, asthma, and adult or acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Yet another medical market for MEMS pressure sensors is in measuring vital signs: benchtop or mounted-central-station patient monitors, and multiparameter monitoring devices. Low-end instruments include at least one non-invasive pressure sensor; midrange counterparts comprise one or two such devices, and high-end devices have both non-invasive and invasive pressure sensing, as well as additional respiratory pressure sensing.

One market "in its infancy today" but with high promise is implantable devices such as cardiac monitors, glaucoma monitors, and cranial pressure monitors, iSuppli notes. With a cardiac sensor a patient can be monitored from his/her home, eliminating repeat hospital visits for tests — which would realize huge savings in healthcare costs.

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