Focus: Medical devices

Vital Equipment

Nov. 30, 2021

The plague-like pandemic that hit the world in 2019 and peaked in 2020 taught us many lessons: the vulnerability of our lives, the incompleteness of our current understanding of medical sciences, and the fact that medical supplies can be lifesaving in critical times. Most of us take the presence of medical devices in hospitals and other healthcare facilities for granted, but the fact of the matter is that the manufacturing of medical devices is a demanding process.

Biomedical engineering is an exact science. The degree of precision expected in the manufacturing of the most mundane medical supplies, such as face masks, needles, and syringes, are almost equal to the standards observed in the aviation industry. The level of advanced technology involved in the manufacturing of more complex devices such as ventilators, infusion pumps, heart monitoring devices, and medical imaging machines is beyond the grasp of most of us. The error tolerance in such devices is less than a hundredth of what is customary in-home appliances and civilian high-tech electronic devices. Spain has been a leading European manufacturer of reliable medical devices for years, mainly thanks to the huge body of biomedical knowhow that Spanish scientists and industrialists have accumulated over the years.

Chances are that any doctors, nurses, or other healthcare professionals reading this will know a few Spanish medical equipment brands of good repute. However, the Spanish biomedical equipment industry does not solely revolve around big names. SMEs form the majority of Spain's medical equipment industry—up to 90% of it according to some estimates. Many such SMEs combine Spain's domestic biomedical knowhow with imported technologies from other leading manufacturers such as Germany and the US, forming joint ventures whose output is of the highest imaginable quality. This synergy helps the localization of biomedical technologies in Spain, expands the nation's medical devices industry, and improves the image of Spain as a top market player.

The American multinational manufacturer of medical supplies, Becton Dickinson (BD), is a case in point. “The company was established in Spain 44 years ago. We first opened offices in Madrid, and soon after that we opened the manufacturing facility in San Agustin de Guadalix,” says the company's general manager in Spain, Lourdes López. The company further expanded by acquiring other manufacturing units in the community of Aragon and even the neighboring country of Portugal. Today, the company's portfolio of services and products ranges from surgery appliances to high-tech disease diagnosis kits.

Just over half of all medical equipment manufactured in Spain—whose value adds up to around USD3 billion—is exported, fetching over USD1.75 billion in 2019. The industry's exports grew even further in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent spike in demand for life-support equipment such as medical ventilators. Aside from exports, Spanish medical equipment are used domestically. With the rise of the quality of life and healthcare services in Spain over the last decade, the country's hospitals, clinics, medical research facilities, and other healthcare centers are placing notable orders for medical equipment. The industry is well-equipped to meet the domestic demand, preventing unnecessary imports. Surviving an economic crisis which lasted between 2007 and 2013, Spain has made a comeback, becoming the fourth largest economy in the EU, according to the US Department of Commerce. The country's improving economy will lead to the betterment of the healthcare infrastructure in terms of reach and quality, which will translate into more demand for medical devices.

According to a report by the Spanish Ministry of Health, over 50% of medical imaging machines, surgical tools, and intensive care devices in use across the nation are over 10 years old. The Ministry of Health wants to see the aging equipment replaced with new ones as soon as possible, and the Spanish medical devices industry will surely rise to the occasion.
The current annual per capita expenditure on healthcare in Spain is USD2,660, whereas the figure is USD5,400 and USD4,000 in Germany and the UK, respectively. The current situation is far from ideal for the fourth largest EU economy. And, if the government is to raise the healthcare expenditure, including the expenses needed for the overhaul of medical equipment, Spanish authorities will naturally be more inclined to cut deals with local manufacturers.

Dionisio Martinez de Velasco, managing director of Dräger in Iberia, told TBY that his company and its employees have been “focused on ensuring that hospitals receive their ventilators and other required products,” emphasizing that Dräger in Iberia has “managed to maintain the supply chain of products for health institutions throughout a challenging year.”
With many similar small and large market players active across Spain, who proved their reliability in the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector is hopeful to see further growth in 2021, especially as the world will become more conscious about the necessity of maintaining a well-equipped healthcare infrastructure in the post-coronavirus world.