COVID-19 & MedTech: How to effectively manage supply chain disruption

21 January 2021 Resources

Medical device manufacturers, like us, work in an essential infrastructure industry; building advanced medical systems that improve, enhance and in many cases, save lives.

Other than ensuring employee safety, the second biggest challenge facing the medical industry right now is supply chain disruption. The impact of the current crisis on supply chains is putting added pressure on manufacturers and suppliers worldwide – but how can you build a more resilient supply chain in such times of crisis?

Communication is key

Maintaining regular communication with suppliers regarding their capability to deliver stock during the pandemic is critical to ensure supply can keep up with the significantly increased demand. Weekly and even daily contact allows the monitoring and mitigation of potential risks, allowing time for alternative supply chain options to be explored if necessary.

Now more than ever, it’s important to collaborate effectively and flexibly with suppliers in real-time and make expectations and commitments clear at all levels of the supply chain. We are fortunate to have built long-standing relationships with our key suppliers, many of whom keep their doors open to support us, our customers and healthcare systems worldwide. The longevity of these relationships means that our key suppliers have established strong supply chains, and can often manage 2nd and 3rd tier suppliers in the same way we do.

Alternate sourcing

Suppliers stalling their operations can quickly result in a delay in parts, components or materials necessary for the final delivery of a device. As some suppliers will be more affected than others, it is important to identify additional sources of supply that can be leveraged quickly if our existing supply base is unable to deliver. This enables us to create temporary capacity and allows us to continue to meet customer obligations. Of course, this isn’t always possible, so stock levels must be carefully managed to provide resilience.

Know your customers

Knowing your customers and knowing their requirements is critical for any supply chain, but even more so in a crisis. Fortunately for us, we know the patterns and habits of particular customers, and precisely what they need and when; allowing us to predict their behaviour for future orders. However, no one could anticipate the arrival of a global pandemic. For us, industry knowledge and a deep understanding of our customer’s projects helped us to predict which projects would be in the highest demand.

Clear, transparent and regular contact with customers is just as important as maintaining contact with suppliers. Checking-in with customers a couple of times a week is vital as project demands can often change. During the coronavirus outbreak, we have seen demand for several products increase dramatically, including devices to improve respiratory function and oxygen uptake as part of a ventilator system for patients in critical care including those due to COVID-19, as well as hygiene monitoring devices and rapid diagnostic testing platforms.

Materials and stock management

Materials management and control of finished goods is a delicate balancing act between being lean and being able to increase output if necessary. This doesn’t just apply during times of crisis; it applies to normal day to day business. Our goal is for materials to arrive just in time to meet customer schedules and avoid holding excess stock. The balancing act is ensuring there are enough materials and stock on-site for us to react to any sudden changes, such as customers’ changing their schedule or increasing their order quantity.

As a global contract design and manufacturing partner of life-saving medical devices and diagnostic instruments, ITL is an essential link in the healthcare supply chain. Our UK, US and China operations remain open to support our customers by continuing the supply of critical-care devices for the healthcare industry. Thank you to our employees for going the extra mile to ensure that our business continues to thrive and vital production carries on.