Tubing manufacturers were greatly impacted in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many OEMs suspended projects, especially requests for tubing that supported elective surgeries. Projects that were advanced quickly were largely for tubing that supported critical-care equipment for COVID-19 patients. With elective surgeries shut down by the end of the second quarter of 2020, hospitals stopped ordering supplies for these surgeries, causing the tubing market to slump by about 35 percent.
"However, during this time, new product development seemed unaffected by the pandemic and actually seemed to increase, which probably kept many of the independent extrusion companies afloat," said Tim Steele, president of Microspec Corporation, a Peterborough, N.H.-based custom extruder of advanced medical tubing and profiles.
By the end of December 2020, signs of recovery were evident, and so far in 2021, tubing demand/production is up. "Tubing demand is resurging, and customers are revising their forecasts to account for anticipated increases in market demand," said Gordon Brooks, senior director of product management for Nordson MEDICAL, a Salem, N.H.-based provider of extrusions, heat shrink, film cast, and balloon components and assembly.
Even though demand for advanced medical devices fluctuated wildly in 2020, "with global production and R&D staying strong overall, we expect tremendous growth in 2021," added Amna Rana, technical sales manager for Cobalt Polymers, a Cloverdale, Calif.-based global heat shrink manufacturer.
Much of this growth will still be related to the ongoing fight against COVID-19, with continued need for medical tubes for drug delivery devices, catheters, nasogastric procedures, nebulizers, and bulk disposable tubing. There is also extremely high demand for tubing used in single-use processes focused on vaccine R&D and production, therapeutic devices such as ventilators, and virus testing.
"We are adding manufacturing capacity in a timely manner to keep up with skyrocketing demand," said Tony Szoka, national sales manager for NewAge Industries, a Southampton, Pa.-based manufacturer of tubing for a variety of industries, including medical. "However, adding extra production shifts and qualified labor candidates remains challenging."
The quest for new catheter-based, minimally invasive treatment options that can replace surgical procedures is a key driver of innovation and growth. "New tubing requests come from both experienced and inexperienced designers seeking to understand the latest material technologies that can provide benefits over existing and emerging material technologies in terms of improved physical properties, lower processing cost, sterilization compatibility, and biocompatibility requirements," said Robert LaDuca, CEO of Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Duke Empirical, a developer and manufacturer of custom extruded medical tubing and catheter products.
Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) liners continue to be important for a variety of markets, especially interventional vascular. Tubing and hose for single-use systems are in high demand. Other companies seek customized profile/shaped tubing and multi-lumen tubing, which may require specialized extrusion tooling. Development engineers continue to make requests that push the upper and lower limits of polymer technologies. "Many new medical device designs call for a variety of tubing sizes, ranging from 0.002 inches all the way up to 0.4 inches or larger for neurovascular, structural heart, and robotic...