Article | June 29, 2014

9 Things To Consider Before Choosing A Supplier For Medical Device Applications

By Luis Tissone, Director - Life Sciences, Trelleborg Sealing Solutions

Recently, numerous management analysts and experts have touted the benefits that medical device manufacturers of all sizes can realize by establishing "partnerships" with their suppliers. Forward-thinking suppliers understand how they can support the medical device manufacturing industry through these partnerships.

When specifying seals, bearings, silicone tubing, extruded profiles, overmolded assemblies, sanitary gaskets, or LIM (liquid injection molding) products for medical device applications, specific areas should be evaluated when selecting a supplier:

  1. Innovation: Improvements to medical devices or components can be made through the contribution of product design, technology, and/or ideas. In many instances, suppliers can help medical device manufacturers by collaborating through shoulder-to-shoulder engineering to develop advanced designs and materials.
  2. Commitment to quality: Not surprisingly, product quality is regarded as an essential factor in selecting a supplier. Specifics in this area include a supplier’s use of technology and better engineering design methods, ISO certifications, approach to problem solving, preventative maintenance, and methods of equipment calibration. It is important to have quality control people on your supplier’s team to realistically deliver control standards and methods of measuring quality.
  3. Advanced delivery systems: Reductions in total product cost can be achieved. This can be done either through streamlining of work processes (inventory management, new product design, scheduling, etc.) or replacement of costly components with less expensive — yet still effective — components.
  4. Local support and global reach: A supplier that pulls from its global knowledge base while providing local support for an optimized customer experience is ideal.
  5. Total value of ownership (TVO) approach: TVO is another huge factor for businesses that need to create streamlined processes. TVO encompasses the additional added value a customer attains above and beyond the actual product, as evidenced by advanced delivery programs, shoulder-to-shoulder design collaboration, leveraging R&D expertise and initiatives, and special packaging services, to name a few.
  6. Communication: Suppliers should maintain a policy of open communication. When changes are required in engineering or design, this allows for a more collaborative and streamlined process, affecting all touch points of the project.
  7. Flexibility and special services: Many medical device manufacturers express appreciation for suppliers that take extra measures to satisfy their customers. These "perks" can range from after-hours accessibility to inventory management and even technical training.
  8. Market knowledge: Suppliers with extensive knowledge of market conditions and mastery of contemporary issues impacting your business can be immensely valuable in helping your company chart a course to sustained financial success.
  9. Financial stability: Since medical device manufacturers have strict compliance and regulations to consider, they typically prefer to select and partner with suppliers that are financially stable. Such arrangements not only convey security, but they allow companies to learn about one another and gain a better understanding of each other’s needs, desires, operating practices, and future objectives. Moreover, being in a meaningful relationship encourages suppliers to make investments that are tailored to the customer’s needs, and to be more innovative. A trusted supplier is more likely to think about the medical device manufacturer’s customers.

Suppliers that deliver materials to the medical device industry understand that their materials must be equipped to cope with the extremes of aggressive media, temperature, pressure, and motion. In addition, chemical cleaning agents and steam sterilization resistance are often key requirements as more and more medical devices are designed for reuse.

We are seeing manufacturers of different devices, from catheters to blood separators, orthopedic products to surgical trays, showing a growing interest in a shoulder-to-shoulder design approach in which the supplier pro-actively collaborates with its customer to engineer materials to address the unique needs of the manufacturer.

For instance, ConMed, a global medical technology company, looked for a seal and gasket that could give it a competitive edge. Its new Hall 50™ Powered Instruments System, including handpieces that are used for orthopedic and thoracic surgical procedures, are differentiated through the innovation of an advanced triple-sealing technology. This gives the handpieces superior resistance to moisture intrusion and makes them compatible with automated washers and sanitizers.

The Hall 50 handpieces have highly acclaimed ingress protection ratings of IPX 6 and 8 and use high-performance, low-friction seals and gaskets that resist moisture intrusion in the presence of water jets and submersion. Additionally, the seals and gaskets help reduce vibration, enabling better instrument command and minimizing fatigue during lengthy usage.

The sealing solution for ConMed is an example of how a supplier can impact a medical device manufacturer’s product and reputation in the market. It also demonstrates the importance of choosing the right supplier and how, by assessing and understanding the value a supplier can bring, the performance of an application can be enhanced.