More than a year before the COVID-19 pandemic began, John Scrivener, a senior buyer from Nonin Medical, contacted Diversified Plastics (DPI) to learn about the company’s capabilities and capacity as part of a supplier selection process. That was the unwitting start of a mutual partnership in the fight against COVID-19.
The Nonin supplier selection team was looking for a long-term partner to manufacture components for its Onyx fingertip pulse oximeters and other potential products. The first fingertip pulse oximeter on the market, Onyx has a durable hard plastic case designed to withstand vibration, shock, bumps and drops. It is manufactured in black, blue and red, with plastic channels that hold the batteries in place.
As common and as simple to use as a thermometer, a pulse oximeter is an electronic device that measures pulse rate and the saturation level of oxygen carried in red blood cells. It also identifies patients with silent hypoxia, a COVID-19 symptom in which oxygen levels in the tissue have dropped but the individual has no signs that something is wrong. Early treatment can keep COVID-19 patients off ventilators — and alive.
“We were transitioning from another plastic injection molder,” said Kristin Finberg, project manager at Nonin, in a news release. “Searching for a new supplier was a big step for Nonin. We needed to be confident that the chosen vendor could meet our needs today and in the future.”
After many years of use, the tools that were used to make the plastic injection-mold components for the Onyx fingertip pulse oximeters needed to be replaced. Nonin also wanted to integrate some design changes. DPI engineering manager Alex Cromett and sales engineer Aliza Alverson developed an action plan and schedule for Nonin. DPI provided a tool design and an advanced validation protocol. Once the tool was complete, prototypes were developed and the first article inspection was completed.
“Just as we were getting close to going into production, COVID-19 happened,” Finberg said. “That’s when Onyx product sales rapidly accelerated. Fortunately, we were already working with DPI to manufacture, decorate and assemble components of the Onyx fingertip pulse oximeters.”
DPI is manufacturing everything that is plastic on the Onyx fingertip pulse oximeters, including the exterior or enclosure and the soft-touch material that holds the finger. Some of the parts require complex overmolding of different materials, which DPI says is one of its proficiencies. DPI also manages direct-sourcing of lens components with one of Nonin’s other vendors and is sourcing product decorating and completing some of the assembly. Once completed, the parts go back to Nonin to add the electronics, finish the assembly, and packaging.
With a second wave of COVID-19 anticipated in late fall or early winter, DPI is investing in additional presses to boost capacity for when global demand for Nonin’s pulse oximeters will likely begin again.
“When we started the review process, we couldn’t have imagined that demand for the product would increase as much as it has,” Finberg said. “The team at DPI was able to quickly assess the surge in volume and develop a plan, including additional tooling, to increase capacity.”