From invoking their business continuity plans to marshaling their pandemic teams, medical device contract manufacturers are finding ways to keep business going during the coronavirus pandemic.
Medical Design & Outsourcing conducted an informal survey of manufacturers and other companies that serve the medtech industry. Here’s some of what we learned.
Companies that serve multiple industries have made medtech their priority. Quick-turn manufacturer Protolabs (Maple Plain, Minn.) said it’s seen an influx of COVID-19-related medical components needing urgent production, ranging from test kits to ventilators to respirators.
“We are urgently putting internal protocols in place to be able to prioritize these orders ahead of all others and waiving expedite fees in order to quickly get critical medical supplies into the market,” the company said through spokesperson Sarah Ekenberg. “Most/all are using our injection molding services because that’s the only manufacturing service capable of producing tens of thousands of parts in days.”
Web Industries (Marlborough, Mass.) has a 6,500-square-foot facility in Holliston, Mass., built specifically for manufacturing lateral flow immunoassay (LFI) tests. During the pandemic, the company has dedicated production at that plant to LFI tests for COVID-19, as the tests are among the solutions researchers are considering to efficiently test large numbers of people.
“Web Industries’ medical team has devised processes to help LFI device manufacturers expedite the transition from the research lab to large-volume, reel-to-reel production of millions of tests,” the company told us. “Web has an LFI economic and manufacturing model available to share with device developers, academic researchers and companies responding to U.S. market needs for COVID-19 test kits.”
“Our LFI manufacturing plant is ready to work on a priority basis to be part of the solution,” added VP of corporate development Kevin Young. “We can help LFI device developers to efficiently scale up production after they discover a viable LFI solution.”
Effects on manufacturers’ supply chain continue to evolve. Medline Industries, a major manufacturer and distributor of medical supplies, reported that after almost two months of a manufacturing hiatus, China re-opened manufacturing operations in the Hubei Province on March 10, although production ramp-up at these factories is expected to be slow. The result is a reduction in capacity and delayed shipments from factories, according to Northfield, Ill.-based Medline.
“This supply constriction combined with the unprecedented global need for (personal protective equipment) due to the coronavirus pandemic has us focused on ensuring current Medline healthcare customers have the essential supplies they need to protect both patients and staff,” said company spokesperson Stacy Rubenstein. “We have put in place inventory management programs and allocations to protect as much inventory as possible for our customers. In addition, we are actively working on options to increase production in other areas of our global supply chain, while diligently monitoring the situation in Southeast Asia.”
Elkem Silicones (Lyon, France) reported that its plant in China recently mobilized to mold and assemble protective face masks to respond to the global shortage. The company’s materials are also used to produce cleaning and sanitizing products such as sanitary wipes, floor cleaners, hand sanitizers and disinfectants.
“Today, our manufacturing facilities in Asia are fully operational and back to business,” said Karen O’Keefe, Americas strategic marketing and communications director for Elkem Silicones. “In Europe, we continue to operate in an increasingly challenging environment. And in the Americas, we are supplying our customer base without interruption.”
MicroCare (New Britain, Conn.), which manufactures fluids and tools for industrial cleaning, coating and lubrication, reported its supply chain is in good shape as it has multiple sources, with most located in North America. MicroCare continually monitors the supply chain for issues that may impact our operations, working closely with our suppliers to assess and minimize any potential effect.
MicroCare said on its website that it’s been able to maintain production and delivery schedules, and expects demand to rise. “Indeed, there is going to be an increased need for effective critical cleaning fluids in all the industries we serve,” the company said.
Respondents told us they’re also working to keep employees healthy, including on-site social distancing, implementing work-from-home policies for all who can do so, taking employees’ temperatures when necessary, requiring sick employees to stay home, and cleaning — lots of cleaning.
Several said they had implemented the Centers for Disease Control-recommended safe best practices and implemented new cleaning regimens. “We are daily disinfecting multiple touchpoints throughout the offices, restroom facilities, and as well as common gathering areas, etc.,” said Jake Wakley, VP of quality and regulatory affairs at interventional device contract manufacturer Biomerics in Salt Lake City. “Where and when possible, facilities are handling all inbound materials and giving each item a thorough review. Each item will be cleaned and wiped down, if needed, to avoid any further spread of illness.”
Also in Salt Lake City, Nelson Labs president Jeffrey Nelson said that testing operations continue using a rotating shift schedule with divided teams to minimize the risk of an infection disrupting an entire service line. All non-laboratory staff are working at home and the company cafeteria is closed.
Staying in touch
Several companies also reported on how they were keeping in contact with customers while keeping themselves and those customers safe.
“We are implementing additional technology to stay in contact, manage interactions and maintain business continuity,” said Tim and Elizabeth Steele of tubing manufacturer Microspec (Peterborough, N.H.). “We are restricting visitors to our facilities since limiting outside exposure will help keep our operations team healthy and reduce risk of spreading the virus to our critical areas.”
Microspec also reported a somewhat reduced workforce due to school shutdowns and government recommendations for older people and with underlying health conditions.
“We have temporarily shut down 3rd shift, but are operating 1st and 2nd shifts to nearly full capacity,” the Steeles said. “We have made the directive to manufacturing that our customers’ production items will have priority over prototype items. We ask our customers who have submitted prototype POs to understand that their POs may be delayed during this emerging crisis. For the time being, we are able to balance our workload effectively with our current staffing and shift operations.”
“We have asked any customers who need components to support COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment to reach out to us for priority handling,” added Debbie Morrison, spokesperson for Ronkonkoma, N.Y.–based Qosina, which supplies thousands of OEM single-use components to the medical and pharmaceutical industries. “While our supply chain continues to remain strong, we recognize that products and services of this nature are of extreme importance and timing is a priority. Our goal is to ensure we understand our customers’ critical component priorities and that we are aligned to their needs.”
None of the respondents would speculate on how the pandemic would affect sales. Most said it’s too early to tell, but Spectrum Plastics Group spokesperson Katie Rafferty said that company is not seeing any fluctuation in sales at this point. The Alpharetta, Ga.-based company remains is keeping customers up-to-date on orders and supplies and asking how it can help.
“Given the nature of this global pandemic, SPG is also reaching out to our industry partners to determine how we can bring our technical and operational capabilities to assist in managing this crisis,” Rafferty added. “These are challenging times and our key message is that we are all in this together and that SPG is committed to the success of our partners and communities.”
Other companies offered words of support to customers.
“We understand many of you may be feeling isolated as public health officials encourage us to distance ourselves from others and community events are canceled” MicroCare said on its website. “We encourage you to continue to find ways to connect with others during this time. Make a phone call to friend or video chat with a colleague. Emotional wellness is just as important as physical well-being.”
Integer Holdings, the world’s largest medical device contract manufacturer (Plano, Texas), noted that patients and healthcare providers are relying on the medtech industry now more than ever.
“We work in a critical infrastructure industry – vital work that helps sustain and save human lives,” the company said through spokesperson Kelsie Aziz. “We are proud of how our team has stepped up to continue to take care of our customers during very uncertain times.”
This article has been updated with comments from Nelson Labs and Spectrum Plastics.