Medical monitoring devices for home use are becoming almost as popular among the massive market of baby boomers as the popular pastime of comparing how many prescription meds one has. In response, Microchip has just formed a new Medical Products Group that will focus on the information needs of engineers designing for this $1B market, which includes such devices as blood pressure monitoring systems and pregnancy testers and fertility monitors.A major thrust of this initiative is a new online medical design center, which includes design guides, application notes, and development tools for engineers using its PIC Microcontrollers and dsPIC Digital Signal Controllers.
This is now the third vertical market group Microchip has launched. Why the focus on medical now? Ten years ago we launched an automotive group, and then we formed the appliance group five years later. There is extensive use of electronics today in both markets. Medical devices have a longer development cycle, and so many new products for this market that leverage semiconductor technologies are just coming to the marketplace today. Thanks to all those prevention-oriented baby boomers out there and their interest in medical devices for the home, we think the market is just going to keep on growing, and that means that more engineers are going to need information to help them in the design work.
How important is this market to Microchip? Our sales today in the medical market are in the single digits. But in terms of growth potential, we think it is going to be one of the most important markets to focus on for the future.
What are some of the unique requirements of the medical device market? Since many of these devices are for home use and therefore portable, low power is one of the huge drivers. That means that design engineers will need to come up with more efficient electronic designs and, in some cases, the need to supply power for implantable devices. Also, many of these devices are now being miniaturized for the home market, which means that engineers are focusing on how to make the footprint of the device smaller. Finally, for many monitoring and data collection devices, there is a need for connectivity, such as USB, Ethernet, or ZigBee.
Are there security concerns when it comes to transmission of patient data? Data confidentiality is a huge issue, and it is one of the areas that we have been working on in terms of coming up with new technologies that ensure the authentication of consumable materials as well making sure that a patient's data is kept secure.
Does the medical market lead or follow when it comes to the adoption of new technologies? What I've seen is that it depends on the kind of technology you are talking about - and it is almost diametrically opposed. When it comes to things like microcontrollers, design engineers are looking for proven, off-the-shelf technology that works. So they will be able to leverage all of the groundwork and development effort that has been laid down in this area. On the other hand, they are willing to be more innovative in areas such as sensors and materials.
Steve Kennelly is the Medical Products Group Manager of Microchip.