The problems presented by the pandemic have created unforeseen and unique issues with the supply chain, including getting parts and supplies, as well as finished products, to their intended destinations. The pandemic has created issues with the production of important components such as microchips and electronics. In addition, the pandemic created a backlog and increased lead times for critical materials. This has also led to inflationary costs of raw materials and labor, and at times, raw material providers prioritized other markets due to their size, thus increasing delays.

Like many in the medical device and component industry, Flexan has had to find new ways to help their customers bring products to market, and come up with strategic solutions to combat supply chain disruptions. Let’s look at how this problem has affected the medical device world and then discuss how we have adapted. In the meantime, if you want to discuss this with us one-on-one, just contact us today.

A brief summary of supply chain issues in the medical device industry

Like a lot of seemingly “sudden” and “overnight” crises, the supply chain issue that has taken hold of much of the world with the pandemic was building for some time. The factors that have come into play were weaknesses that were already there, but it took the global pandemic to bring them to critical mass and cause the current disruption.

All it took to expose the problems brewing in the supply chain was a virus. Once COVID-19 became a global pandemic, it exposed the fact that there was little or no plan to deal with global shutdowns, or reduced workforces due to sickness, there were not enough people to continue to produce things like microchips or other components necessary to keep manufacturing going.

It would have been difficult to predict that ports around the world would close down or greatly limit the number of ships, goods and people allowed into the country because of pandemic concerns. However, these things combined created crucial shortages throughout the manufacturing world. Interruptions in production cascaded into near significant delays for new products getting to market.

Supply chain issue solutions

There are solutions which can be put in place to help mitigate the supply chain issues, if not prevent them entirely. It all starts with communication and asking the right question. From the start, we must ask: “Are we effectively managing risks to our supply chain?” We must also communicate the supply chains risks, start planning from the very start of the manufacturing process, and set reasonable expectations.

The crisis created a need for smarter manufacturing processes. That means looking at unique elements within the process and figuring out how to use them to continue to bring treatments to patients despite supply chain issues, which is always the endgame for manufacturing medical devices. Elements such as:

  • 3D printing. The pandemic and shortages in supplies such as PPE showed that 3D printing could be the solution, to fill gaps. If you have 3D printing capabilities, and the device or component can work effectively with printed parts, this is a way to reduce the needs for shipping.
  • Telemedicine. There’s no denying allowing doctors to work over the phone or via computer, remotely, has grown in use and reached a peak during the pandemic. It seems remotely treating patients is going to continue to develop. Paired with something like wearable devices, it is now possible to get treatments or analysis even when only remote options are available.
  • Wearables. Wearable medical devices allow people all around the world to analyze medical data. With advances in technology, wearable devices are smaller, more portable, and more easily allow collaboration with medical professionals almost anywhere, thus almost completely bypassing the supply chain.
  • Point of care testing. The purpose pf POC testing is to bring the test closer to the patient. This cuts through supply chain issues by removing the need to send a test through the chain to get a test accomplished. As technology advances, the ability to do this will grow.
  • Artificial intelligence. AI can help predict potential supply chain problems early on, so steps can be taken to mitigate those issues. Using analytics and other tools, this can help make problems easier to manage.
  • Robots. Fully autonomous robotics can improve efficiencies and reduce errors on the manufacturing line. Thus, it helps optimize the supplies already there and reduce the need for more components which might get stranded in the supply chain.

By creating predictive capabilities and analytics, manufacturers can spot problems early to develop solutions. This all goes back to the idea of starting early, analyzing the entire manufacturing process and making predictions where problems might arise. Another thing companies can do is move more processes from manual to automated systems. Procurement and invoicing, for example, are two areas where this can be done.

Finally, it’s time to look at everything! Are there new partnerships to consider? How about trying out new assembly teams or shipping methods? Are there newer, better, ways to collaborate that will help mitigate the supply chain? Analyze it all and make changes.

How Flexan has changed to adapt with supply chains

Of course, we have had to adapt in order to ensure that we delivered their components and devices to mitigate any supply chain issues. At Flexan, we’ve accomplished this by purchasing more inventory whenever we can, ensuring we have enough supplies on hand to complete the tasks with minimal to no delays. We’ve sought and validated alternative suppliers, so we can pivot to new ones when we run into problems. We also maintain our diligence when tracking supplies and components to ensure everyone agrees and can make adjustments as needed.

In many ways, we built our entire manufacturing process to handle potential problems like this. Because we take a holistic approach to medical device manufacturing, we already look at the entire process from early design to delivery. Our years of experience helped us develop this method, and put us in a unique position to deal with supply chain disruptions.

Supply chain issues can be mitigated, and Flexan’s process can help

The recent disruptions to the supply chain spread far and wide, affecting manufacturing in several industries. However, here at Flexan, our process for working with customers and building medical devices and components, has positioned us to manage these problems and come up with solutions.

If you are looking to partner with an experienced medical device manufacturer, find out how Flexan’s processes can help you. Contact us to talk to a member of our team to get things moving.