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A distribution partner fit for the wearable and health medical market

There are some truly exciting opportunities on the horizon. Over recent years, we’ve seen steady growth within the robotics, IoT and 3D printing markets, which are all gaining increasingly more attention. However, none of these sectors are still quite as attractive as the wearable medical health device market, forecast to hit $41.3 billion by 2020.

ReportBuyer defined a wearable electronic medical device as one that “detects and monitors change in certain crucial body signatures [and] captures physiological data”. From smart watches and medical patches, we’re now starting to see high-tech fashion merge with high-fashion technology too.

As wireless semiconductors and sensors become more affordable and smaller in size, the demand to use them in wearable devices is rapidly growing. It’s also interesting to note that the majority of health and fitness devices do not yet need medical-grade FDA approval and therefore distributors are not required to offer counsel on industry regulations. This significantly opens up the market to ‘low-risk’ health devices and on the distribution side, I’d expect this trend to result in an increased demand for NFC chips, smart sensors, signal boosters, low-power accelerometers and wireless transceivers.

Designers need a wide range of components to manufacture common wearable medical devices and this means that their distribution partner must offer the reliable supply that scheduled business requires. However, it’s important to mention that there are a number of big players already operating in the wearable market space and these companies will undoubtedly have partnerships with tier one distributors to service their large and fast-moving production lines.

Typically, this leaves ‘mid-sized’ companies in an unfavourable position. In my experience, such companies have a very specific set of requirements and alongside access to franchise lines, they tend to place High Mix Low Volume (HMLV) orders too. This makes them a lower priority for larger distributors, who are inclined to favour the high-volume, high-margin orders that their shareholders demand.

With this in mind, tier one distributors are often not the right choice for mid-sized companies. These companies need a very specific type of smaller distributor that they can work collaboratively with. By doing so, they would not only receive the variety of parts they need, but also have the additional support that will help them get their products to market as quickly as possible.

To give an example, the complexity of manufacturing medical devices means that designs may often need to be adapted or re-specced at short notice. Managing this process alone could become a very time-consuming and costly task. However, a personal and cooperative partnership with your distributor could result in introductions to companies within their trusted partner network that have the know-how to help you re-design your device.

Although the number of distributors that are aligned to service mid-sized health and fitness companies with such a vast range of capabilities remain few, they do exist and those that do are providing a powerful partnership to designers operating in a very competitive and crowded market.

Kathleen Goodner

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