From coping with wild fluctuations in demand to keeping workers safe and customers satisfied, these medical device industry suppliers have managed to adapt amid COVID-19 and an uncharted business environment.
Nancy Crotti, Managing Editor
Medical device contract manufacturers are finding ways to keep business going during the coronavirus pandemic.
Medical Design & Outsourcing recently conducted another round of 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 parts for ventilators.
Protolabs has been waiving expedite fees for COVID-19-related orders with more than 4 million components produced at no additional charge, according to company spokeswoman 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,” Ekenberg said.
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, according to the company.
“Our LFI manufacturing plant is ready to work on a priority basis to be part of the solution,” said VP of corporate development Kevin Young. “We can help LFI device developers to efficiently scale up production after they discover a viable LFI solution.”
Northfield, Ill.-based Medline Industries, a major manufacturer and distributor of medical supplies, reported that it switched manufacturing in its Hartland, Wis., plant to producing hand sanitizer for healthcare providers, shipping its first lot of alcohol-based hand sanitizer on April 13.
“Production was up and running just three weeks after the company made the decision to begin making the new product — at the point when the nationwide supply of hand sanitizer was beginning to rapidly diminish,” said Medline spokeswoman Stacy Rubenstein. “Already, the facility is outpacing early production estimates. We’re currently producing 200,000 bottles per week and expect to quickly ramp that up to 400,000 bottles in the next few weeks.”
West Pharmaceutical Services is supporting customers around the world who are developing diagnostics, treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. Its contract manufacturing sites in Scottsdale and Tempe, Ariz., are producing injection-molded parts to support diagnostic testing, including a rapid test recently authorized by the FDA, according to spokeswoman Michele Pelkowski. Its Jersey Shore, Pa., elastomer site is producing more than 13 million components that are going directly to test, treat or prevent COVID-19.
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 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.
MicroSpec (Peterborough, N.H.) temporarily shut down its third shift when the pandemic hit the U.S. but has since resumed operating all three shifts to nearly full capacity, according to VP Elizabeth Steele.
“We have alerted our customers who have submitted prototype [purchase orders] to understand that their POs may be delayed during this emerging crisis,” Steele said. “For the time being, we are able to balance our workload effectively with our current staffing. Although a few customers have put their POs on hold, other customers who have medical devices used in this ongoing battle against COVID are experiencing spikes and have increased their orders.”
Protecting employee health
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 Laboratories president Jeffrey Nelson said that testing operations continue using a rotating shift schedule with divided teams to ensure service continuity and minimize the risk of infection. All non-laboratory staff are working at home, and the company cafeteria is closed.
“We are proud to be playing an important role in supporting our customers in this fight against the virus with ongoing validation of PPE and other critical hospital supplies,” Nelson added. “We are also instituting employee temperature-monitoring and face coverings to ensure service continuity.”
Trelleborg spokeswoman Karin Larsson said the Swedish tubing and extrusion company has implemented contingency plans at its global operations to more efficiently and safely handle deliveries of materials and products.
“We are monitoring the situation very carefully with regard to our employees’ well-being and commitments to our customers, country by country, facility by facility,” Larsson said. “Health and safety measures have been implemented at our sites, and we are following the requests and recommendations made by local authorities, such as extraordinary measures to implement civil protection.”
MicroSpec’s Elizabeth Steele reported spending thousands of dollars on employee health and safety, rearranging workstations and adding acrylic barriers where it couldn’t; separating break areas; creating separate entrance doors; adding a time clock in a new area of the building; and enforcing employee compliance with CDC guidelines.
Staying in touch, looking ahead
Several companies also reported on how they were keeping in contact with customers while keeping themselves and those customers safe.
“We have asked any customers who need components to support COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment to reach out to us for priority handling,” added Ken Wolcott, 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 CTO Gaurav Kapoor said that the Alpharetta, Ga.-based company 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,” Kapoor 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 and employees. 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 spokeswoman Kelsie Aziz. “We are proud of how our team has stepped up to continue to take care of our customers during very uncertain times.”