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Increased service help device makers
control costs

Pressures from hospitals and other healthcare buying groups to keep medical device costs down have tempered the industry’s growth. Indeed, those in the industry say, not only are buyers demanding that device manufacturers hold the line on their prices, some have negotiated long term contracts with their device suppliers that reduce prices over the course of time.

In turn, medical device manufacturers have locked packaging suppliers into long term contracts that are similar to those between manufacturers and hospitals. While polymer raw material costs have gone up – polyethylene prices, for example, have jumped eight times in the last year and a half – packaging suppliers have not been able to pass those costs on.

To develop and maintain long term relationships with device makers – necessary for survival in today’s climate – packaging suppliers are devising new packaging options and offering support through various services.

The sterile medical device packaging market (not including diagnostics) in the United States is projected to grow 5.5% per year for the next five years to reach approximately $800 million in 2004, according to a study produced by US-based Allied Development Corp and published by Packaging Strategies. But that growth rate will not match the 7.4% projected for medical devices themselves. The cost pressures are a major factor in that discrepancy, as is the increasing use of thinner materials.

Nonetheless, medical packaging is viewed as one of the most promising markets for growth in packaging, according to a survey by the Flexible Packaging Association.

A study titled "US Disposable Medical Supplies," published by The Freedonia Group Inc. (Cleveland), says that the demand for disposable medical supplies in the United States will increase 5.3% annually through 2004. Among the strongest sellers will be pre-filled syringes and pre-filled nebulizers. In addition, demand for IV, drug-delivery and related supplies wil increase at 6.4% per year to 2004. While hospitals will remain the largest market for disposable medical supplies, outpatients sites will be a fast-growing market, demanding such packaged medical products as transdermal patches, pre-filled nebulizers, and blood glucose strips.

There have been a variety of ways in which medical packaging suppliers have responded to the changing demands of the market. One of the new materials, says Hal Miller, director of packaging technology for Johnson & Johnson (J&J, New Brunswick, N), which bought more medical device packaging than any other company in 1999 according to the Allied/Packaging Strategies report. "Material cost is where most are looking for packaging cost reduction," he says. "For instance, converters such as Perfecseal and Ream have introduced formable films with peel-seal adhesives for uncoated top-stock materials. And DuPont responded with Tyvek 2FS" which is lighter in weight than other forms of Tyvek.

Another way material suppliers are solidifying their relationships with medical device makers is by increasing their services.





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