Medical technology ensures good health and quality of life

Medical technology serves us through all stages of life – from birth to old age. Digitalization will drive this trend even further. On the one hand, more and more data is readily available to the doctor. On the other hand, the patients themselves gather an increasing amount of information on their health.

Source: Shutterstock, everything possible

Communication in medical technology

The ever-increasing amount of information and communication technology that has become a part of the daily lives of the patients and doctors as well as digitalization has lead to vast changes regarding communication in medical technology. The focus is on two aspects, one relating to the doctor-patient conversation, the other relating to improved diagnosis and treatment options by the doctor based on big data.

A good doctor-patient conversation is of key importance to treatment. It helps to make the right diagnosis and find suitable treatment.

In the past, most patients simply had to accept their diagnosis and treatment, but increasing patient competency strongly influences the doctor-patient relationship. Today, when a patient notices symptoms, he goes online and gets information on causes and risk factors. Whether patients are better informed after consulting Google, however, is still open to debate among doctors. However, there is no doubt that this trend is unstoppable. Therefore, the goal of all those involved in health care should be that of a well-informed patient.

 

An electronic patient file cannot replace a confidential conversation. Source: iStock, Squaredpixels
Nowadays, people can monitor their own heart rate and quality of sleep using a fitness tracker. Source: grinvalds/iStockPhoto

At the same time, patients can potentially contribute their own data to the conversation. Examples include the above-mentioned smartphone app during pregnancy or the recording of body data via wearables such as fitness trackers.

This leads us to the other aspect mentioned: big data in medicine. Big data and algorithms can improve health and quality of life. Here, large amounts of heterogeneous data are linked in different application scenarios. Big data analyses aim at the better use of resources, more cost-efficient treatments and individually tailored treatments. Even if the topic will continue to gain significance in the future, big data has long become a part of everyday life for the general public.

With the Google Flu Trends project, for example, Google tried predicting the spread of flu outbreaks in different countries based on search queries about flu symptoms. Another interesting project is the “Íslendingabók” database. It contains the genealogical data of about one-half of the inhabitants of Iceland, dating back more than 1,200 years.

Particularly in cancer research, big data promises considerable added value for doctors and patients. When three of four chemotherapies do not have the desired results, big data can help finding the right, patient-specific treatment within minutes.

Hello world!

A child is born and only a few minutes later the joyful occasion is confirmed with three figures: weight, body length and head circumference. However, these are not the first figures that evaluate and describe the newborn. Data collection starts long before birth – with the first independent sign of life in the mother’s womb. Parents can start documenting the pregnancy themselves using a smartphone and app. They gather information on the condition of the unborn child that they later evaluate with their gynecologist.

Communication in medical technology

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Growing life

Cubit and foot – The first measuring tapes in history

The need to estimate quantities, sizes and time units dates back almost as far as humanity itself. In ancient times, so-called body measurements were used. They were the most straightforward point of reference and basically acted as measuring units attached to the body. Common length units included cubit and foot.

During the middle ages, length units were also derived from body measurements – more precisely, they were derived from the body size of the respective ruler. While this was a random size, it was easy to reproduce and thus commonly found use.

The invention of the meter

At the end of the 18th century, the vastly differing length units proved to be a serious obstacle to blooming European trade. This was why, in 1790, the French National Assembly commissioned a committee to define a new length standard that could be derived from natural constants. The quadrant of the meridian passing through Paris served as the orientation point for this. Its forty millionth part should correspond to the new length unit, the meter.

The metric system

The new standardized unit of measurement was officially recognized as one meter, represented by a cube made of platinum that has since been kept in Paris. This event marks the birth of the metric system although it took time for the system to gain a foothold in Europe. In 1875, the meter convention was signed by 17 states, establishing the General Conference on Weights and Measures and introducing metric measurements. Today, 55 countries are part of the General Conference on Weights and Measures with an additional 33 countries counting as associated members.

Time – since when is it ticking away so accurately?

The only measuring device that most people carry with them is a watch. For centuries, determining the time relevant to daily life was the privilege of the local authorities in cities and rural areas. Today, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) monitors the defined measuring units. The natural time unit for humans is the day defined by one rotation of the earth on its own axis. Following old cultural traditions, it is divided into 24 hours. Dividing the hour into 60 minutes, each in turn having 60 seconds, was already documented in scriptures by the year 1000. Until 1956, the 86,400th part of the mean solar day served as the time unit second. Since 1967, the second is the muliple of one period of the radiation corresponding to a selected transition between two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium atom.

The hourglass was most likely invented in the 14th century. It was one of the first basic tools for measuring time. Source: Shutterstock, sergign
The four primary atomic clocks of the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB – National Metrology Institute of Germany)), Source: PTB

Weight – On the scale

Mass – together with length and time – is one of humanity’s oldest measuring units. In trade and general exchange of goods, measuring devices such as balance scales and appropriate weights haven been used to determine the quantity of goods for several thousand years. The weights frequently were marked with the symbol of the ruler, thus proving their accuracy. In 1799, the kilogram was named after the Latin word “gramma”, meaning small weight. Since 1889, the kilogram corresponds to the mass of the International Prototype of the Kilogram kept in Paris. Over 80 copies of the kilogram prototype were since distributed to the member countries of the General Conference on Weights and Measures for comparison with national norms.

This kilogram is the German copy of the “original” kilogram and it is kept at the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt in Brunswick. The original is kept at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in Sèvres near Paris. Source: PTB

The early stages of life

Shortly after birth, the baby will sleep in a crib for the first time. This crib needs to comply with strict safety standards. Therefore, cribs are tested by using modern testing technology and then certified.

A few days later the baby experiences its first car ride – in a child seat that is also certified. Soon our little passenger starts crying loudly because three hours have passed since the last meal. An infant makes us aware of another measurement value that is with us through our entire lives: time. Without precise measuring technology, it would be impossible to clock our lives.

 

Cubit and foot – The first measuring tapes in history

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Injection molding makes it possible

Modern bicycle helmets are lighter, safer, affordable for everyone and available worldwide – all thanks to toolmaking.

Quality of life thanks to toolmaking

A modern world without toolmaking is hard to imagine. After all, almost all areas of human life benefit from the ability to produce large series of identical parts in a mold. Like bicycle helmets, sterile syringes would also be highly expensive luxury objects without toolmaking. This also applies for affordable furniture series with countless identical tables and chairs. In addition, the effort in repairing engines and clocks would be unjustifiable since there would be no suitable spare parts.

Mother of products

Still, the two sub-sectors of tool and mold making mostly fly under the radar of public attention – and unjustly so! Almost everything in our daily surrounding is produced using forming tools and molds. These tools largely consist of steel, are operated by machines and map the entire outer geometry of the product or its individual parts. Be it a toothbrush that is shaped from a molten plastic granulate in a complicated injection mold tool together with millions of identical toothbrushes, the thousands of identical vehicle bodies shaped and punched out of a sheet of metal or door handles, bicycle helmets, spoons, pens, computer keyboards, door hinges, thermos bottles or disposable syringes – tool and mold making are always used to develop the product.

Careers in toolmaking

 

Once upon a time…

As legend has it, a silver smith from Saxony is the inventor of this production technology. A Saxon king had commissioned him with making elaborate cutlery for a wedding. Knives, forks and spoons were still crafted individually at the time, each piece being cut and shaped by hand. However, using this method would have taken far too long. And unfortunately, Rumpelstiltskin never showed up to complete the work using magic. To save his neck, the clever man not only invented the precursor to industrial series production, but also laid the groundwork for several industry sectors. Whether this legend is true or not may be called into doubt, after all, molds made of sand, wood and stone have been around for thousands of years. Even so, the legend depicts an important evolutionary step to modern series production with forming tools and molds.

Shaping the industry’s future

The worldwide competition forces the manufacturing of mass products to become ever faster and less expensive. For this reason, the German toolmaking sector is always coming up with even faster tools and uses innovative manufacturing methods. Even 3D printing is frequently being used for manufacturing tool inserts with conformal cooling. As a result, the predominantly family-owned companies that manufacture tools are also turning towards Industrie 4.0 to remain competitive. It is becoming increasingly common for these companies to have automated manufacturing cells with multiple interlinked manufacturing machines. This changes the requirements for the employees. In addition to being tool and production experts, they more and more often master the interaction of different manufacturing technologies at their own companies. The sector is constantly looking for intelligent young minds and provides secure jobs.

Toolmaking: exciting tasks and state-of-the art technology

Versatile, diversified and always linked to interesting tasks, training in toolmaking is a good and future-proof profession. Four trainees introduce their working area.

 

 

Children want to play and have fun

Completing math homework in a rush, shoving the note book in the backpack and … finally, freedom! Quickly making plans with friends using a smartphone, putting a helmet on and off you go with your mountain bike.

Being a child or teen means getting to know and learning to control one’s body, testing the boundaries of one’s capacity and using up vital energy by letting off steam. Protectors and light-weight but safe injection molded helmets help to ensure safety while having fun.

 

Injection molding makes it possible

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Light as a feather, affordable and safe: A bicycle helmet can significantly reduce the risk of injury from falling or having an accident. Source: iStock, vgajic
Diabetes is no longer necessarily a handicap. Nowadays, the blood sugar level can be measured and regulated automatically. Source: Shutterstock/ Robert Przybysz

New freedom for diabetics

Type 1 diabetes is the most common metabolic disease among children and young people in Germany. More than 30,000 children and young people under 19 are currently affected by the disease. The best therapeutic measure for long-term treatment is insulin therapy. Today, treatment is often provided in the form of an insulin pump which is carried on the body. About 10,000 of the affected children and young people are being treated with such pumps. A thin tube and a steel or Teflon cannula connect the pump to the body, usually being placed in the subcutaneous fat tissue of the stomach.

Insulin pumps – as small as a cellphone

This type of insulin supply is possible mainly due to the increasingly smaller components. In turn, the insulin pumps also become smaller – today, they are as small as a cellphone and as light as a bar of chocolate. The pump releases a fixed amount of insulin to the patient at regular intervals. If needed, the patient can increase the amount of insulin simply by pushing a button. The insulin pump significantly improves the patients’ quality of life by providing more freedom in their daily lives. In addition, the blood sugar can be kept at a more stable level.

Approximately 10,000 children and young people in Germany received an insulin pump in 2016. Source: Deutsche Diabetes Gesellschaft

Miniaturization trend – micro pumps

Particularly for dosing minute quantities – as is necessary with patch pumps in diabetes treatment, in pain management or in hormone therapy – silicon micro pumps will be available in future. The Fraunhofer EMFT (Fraunhofer Research Institution for Microsystems and Solid State Technologies EMFT) developed a 5 x 5 x 0.6 mm3 large silicon micro pump that is currently the smallest of its kind worldwide. These micro pumps fulfill the required high reliability and safety requirements for dosing systems in medical technology. For example, they are outfitted with a self-locking free-flow protection that prevents incorrect dosing even if excess pressure is generated in the medication reservoir.

Silicon micro pump, 5 x 5 mm, Source: Fraunhofer EMFT

Further applications of micro pumps

The trend towards miniaturization goes beyond insulin pumps. Other areas of medical technology that require highly accurate and precise dosing also follow this trend. Here, micro pumps are used in infusion systems, for pain management or for medication dosing for implants. Following the “smaller, lighter and better portable” motto, micro pumps set in motion and gases in various applications.

 

In the past, this full freedom was only granted to healthy children. Today, a small insulin pump enables children with serious diseases, such as diabetes, to play with other children. It constantly monitors the blood sugar level and always releases the necessary amount of insulin.

New freedom for diabetics

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“Increasing miniaturization of micro pumps also enables new applications in medical technology. The space savings and lower price not only allow for disposables but also for smaller patch pumps or even implantable pumps.”

Dr. Axel WilleFraunhofer Research Institution for Microsystems and Solid State Technologies EMFT, Microdosing Systems

Smart textiles

Textiles with intelligent functions are called smart textiles. They become “intelligent” through the integration of electronic and sensory functions, which allow them to react to environmental influences or interact with their environment. Sensors or circuit boards are attached to textiles, for example by being stitched on, or threads and textile fabrics are used that already have sensory or electrically conductive properties. Intelligent textiles warm up/heat up, are luminescent, protect, generate energy and communicate.

Smart textiles are equipped with technologies that have so far only been used in the automotive or aerospace industry. Source: Messe Frankfurt

Intelligent clothing

Clothing with integrated sensors is already on the market, at least in niche areas: t-shirts and shirts that can measure pulse, breathing and body movement, heatable underwear, heatable jackets with communication and lighting systems. There are even inlay soles with GPS tracking devices or smart shoes that can be opened up, closed or heated up using an app while also counting steps and calculating calorie consumption. Smart textiles are already very useful in the medical field. The Institute of Textile Technology and Process Engineering Denkendorf, for example, developed a sensory stocking for diabetics that measures the skin’s blood circulation and vibrates when the wearer should move again to improve circulation.

Many of these smart textile products are still in the research phase. However, the sports, health and medical sectors are promising future markets for smart textiles, whether for preventive monitoring of breathing and heart rate or for keeping track of wound healing processes.

Electrically conductive and washable threads turn our clothes into wearable computers – and these smart clothes may even replace smartphones in the near future. Source: Messe Frankfurt

Profession or vocation?

Among the best at physics and always wanting to know the specifics: These are aptitudes which can lead to a technical profession. When paired with an enthusiasm for technology, the profession can soon turn into a vocation. VDMA’s online consulting page talentmaschine.de provides orientation on this. For example, the page introduces the training process for mechatronics technicians at a mechanical engineering company. The website also provides information on study programs for mechanical engineering, operations abroad and careers within the industry, all with the great goal of inventing technological solutions for people and developing them further.

To prevent an interesting semester or assignment abroad, for example in a region with risk of malaria, from resulting in a lifelong disease, there are advanced textiles that have an insect-repellent impregnation.

Other professions also use new technologies. The protective clothing of firefighters, for example, includes integrated sensors that monitor vital functions for the protection of the emergency personnel.

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Malaria is being combated with insecticide-treated mosquito nets. Source: Shutterstock/ frank60
Smart textiles are used in all sectors – from workwear to fashion and sports. Source: Messe Frankfurt

Selected figures on medical technology

How large is the sector and how innovative are its companies? Here are some interesting and potentially surprising figures from the world of medical technology.

6.8

million

people in Germany work in the health sector.
Source: BMWi

28.4

billion euros

in turnover were generated by the medical technology sector in Germany in 2015.
Source: BVMed

9%

of the turnover

is reinvested in research and development by the companies in the medical technology sector.
Source: BVMed

1958

year

first cardiac pacemaker implanted in a human.

51,451

artificial hip and knee joints

were implanted during operations in Germany in 2013.
Source: Statistisches Bundesamt

94%

of medical technology companies

are medium-sized.
Source: BVMed

Retirement as a fresh start

The children have moved out and it is now possible to cut back working hours and readjust your work-life balance. Retirement is within sight and long harbored plans can come to fruition; be it traveling to New Zealand or South America, learning how to sail or going on tours in the Alps. The operation on the knee joint and subsequent rehabilitation went well, so this is the time to get moving!

Modern medicine not only enables people to live longer, but also to remain physically fit for longer. Source: Fotolia/ Patrizia Tilly
Thanks to modern medicine, people can maintain a high quality of life – even at retirement age. Source: Shutterstock/ Daxiao Productions

Today, elderly people are more active and live healthier than ever before. A balanced diet, physical exercise and optimal medical care enable the retirement phase of people’s lives to be as active as during their professional life.

Medically fit in old age

The growing number of elderly people makes senior citizens an interesting target group and provides the basis for a host of innovations. The first reading glasses are used at the age of 50, and frequently, the first dental crown comes even earlier. Dental implants and, more importantly, artificial joints not only represent regained quality of life for the patients, they are also extremely durable high-tech constructions. Products such as dentures would remain pipe dreams without modern production technology. After all, they must be produced under meticulously clean conditions, made from biocompatible but difficult to process metal alloys and be affordable for as many people as possible.

3D printing in medicine

“3D printing is already being used for so-called patient-specific implants. In the future, they will become even more common – and at the same time, 3D printing will enable the production of complex constructions, for example when it comes to the bypass.”

Prof. Dr. Dr. Bilal Al-NawasUniversity Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

Better health, fewer operations

Today, people of all ages are restored to health more quickly after operations than would have been deemed possible a few years ago. In the future, even post-operations after accidents will no longer be necessary thanks to magnesium screws that the bones can convert into body tissue. The future starts today…

Authors

Hans-Günter Heil

VDMA Measuring and Testing Technology Association

Hans-Günter Heil has been working at VDMA as the manager of various trade associations since 1992. Since 2012, he has been working for the newly founded Measuring and Testing Technology Association. He oversees manufacturers in the Length Measuring Technology and Testing Technology specialist departments regarding technological and economic issues.

Niklas Kuczaty

Manager Medical Technology working group

Niklas Kuczaty has been working with medical technology at VDMA since 2012. At the working group founded in 2014, he oversees sales, trade fairs and new markets.

Veronika März

Manager VDMA Textile Care, Fabric and Leather Technologies

Veronika März has been working at VDMA Textile Care, Fabric and Leather Technologies since 2011. Her responsibility encompasses particularly the Markets and Trade Fairs departments.

Johanna Schreiner

Manager VDMA Micro Technologies

Johanna Schreiner has been responsible for Micro Technologies at VDMA since 2016. Miniaturization, micro fluidics, micro production and micro components are at the top of her agenda.

Alfred Graf Zedtwitz

Manager for Communications, Economy and Toolmaking

Since 2001, he has been responsible for the Toolmaking, Communications and Economy departments at the Precision Tools Association. The members of this trade association develop and produce machine tools for metalworking and plastics processing.

Interesting links

The Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB)

Quantification is essential for scientific experiments, industrial processes and goods and merchandise transportation. As the leading national metrology institute, the PTB is responsible for maintaining a reliable and progressive metrological infrastructure.

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Micro pumps

The Fraunhofer Research Institution for Microsystems and Solid State Technologies EMFT dedicates its time to micro pumps and microdosing systems.

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Project “Bringing technology to the people”

With this project, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research promotes the further optimization of human-technology interaction.

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International system of units

The International Bureau of Weights and Measures (Bureau International des Poids et Mesures – BIPM) is an international organization responsible for providing an internationally uniform and distinct system of units based on the International System of Units.

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E-Health Act

Information on political measures promoting digital networking between medical practices and hospitals. This aims at making patient data safely available and generally increasing patient safety.

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