The COVID-19 pandemic has created and exacerbated challenges for medical device manufacturers. Prior to the coronavirus, manufacturers in the medical industry were using advanced manufacturing technologies to improve products and operations. Continuing to implement these advanced technologies will help medical device manufacturers combat the challenges they’re currently facing.
Mitigating Supply Chain Issues
Supply chain disruptions have affected all industries, with continued delays and rising prices still causing a negative impact. Fragile supply chains are a significant challenge for medical device manufacturers, as their devices often require multiple specific components that must meet the medical industry’s regulatory compliance standards. This has led to medical manufacturers relying on limited suppliers for certain parts.
To better prepare for and mitigate these supply chain issues, medical device manufacturers must have a more flexible supply chain and source parts from multiple suppliers in different locations. This allows manufacturers to better adapt if there are disasters or other disruptions in one area that are causing significant delays.
Aside from varying their supplier network, manufacturers should also try to add local suppliers to it. Some companies are choosing to build new manufacturing facilities in the United States, where they have a large customer base, and other companies are considering reshoring manufacturing operations back to the U.S. This will give medical device manufacturers more opportunities to source from local suppliers in the coming years.
A diversified supply network is a step in the right direction, but gaining visibility into that network will help to transform manufacturing supply chains. Suppliers who have implemented smart technologies and industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) capabilities to digitally connect operations can provide the most visibility. The data collected at these supplier facilities allows manufacturers to get a real-time view of their supply chains, allowing them to identify emerging issues and prepare more effectively for these disruptions.
Another way some medical device manufacturers have combated supply chain issues is by purchasing 3D printers. 3D-printed medical components are on the rise, and with 3D printers being so easily accessible and affordable, medical device manufacturers have opted to buy these machines for their facilities. Manufacturers aren’t using 3D printers as a main source to supply parts, but as a useful back-up option when facing significant shipment delays and shortages.
Lowering Healthcare Costs
The cost of healthcare is a sore spot for many Americans, and, though it’s driven by several factors, it is putting pressure on medical device manufacturers to create lower-cost devices. Lowering product costs requires manufacturers to figure out how to cut costs within the production process. One option is to implement additive manufacturing technologies.
Additive manufacturing is a process that adds materials to create parts, which helps manufacturers reduce waste and saves energy costs. The result is a decrease in total production costs for healthcare devices. However, using 3D printing as a main production source of parts isn’t always feasible due to the amount of time and materials needed to 3D-print parts.
A different advanced manufacturing technology that could help lower production costs is automation. Implementing automated processes into production operations has helped manufacturers increase efficiency and lower costs. Adding automation to production also helps to free up workers from doing repetitive manual tasks, and allows them to focus on tasks that require creativity and critical thinking. Giving human workers more time to focus on complex tasks also helps to combat the skilled worker shortage affecting the manufacturing industry.
Improving Outdated Processes
Another use for automation in medical device manufacturing is to improve process efficiency. The time-consuming and costly process of developing medical devices is a significant challenge for medical device manufacturers. Research and development (R&D) in the medical industry is more comprehensive compared to R&D in other manufacturing industries. It requires more extensive review processes and can also include clinical trials of products. This delays time to market for these products and can impact the manufacturer’s return on investment (ROI).
Implementing automation into R&D processes can help to speed up development timelines. Robotic process automation (RPA) can automate manual tasks that are a time-consuming part of clinical trials and product design. Manufacturers can use automation for entering data, processing clinical trial applications and information, and streamlining review processes.
Digitally connecting systems through cloud-based tools is another way to speed up R&D processes. With digitally connected systems, manufacturers can consolidate data from multiple sources for more accurate and actionable results. Better data leads to better products. These technologies also provide real-time data, which allows manufacturers to analyze and react to data faster during development.
Combining RPA with digitally connected systems allows for even more efficient processes that produce more actionable data, and that speed up research and review cycles. Shorter clinical trials cost less and accelerate time to market, leading to faster ROI for medical device manufacturers.
Implementing Effective Cybersecurity Practices
As medical device manufacturers realize the benefits of digital transformations, more and more are implementing smart technologies into their operations. But as processes and devices become more digitally connected, this also increases the risk of cyberattacks.
Prioritizing cybersecurity will help mitigate this risk. A secure product development framework is necessary for manufacturers to create safe, connected medical devices. One way to do this is by hosting connected devices, data, and machinery on separate networks. Hosting on separate networks prevents bad actors from gaining access to an entire framework, even if they’re able to access one device.
Built-in security features like encryption and authentication will also make it harder for bad actors to carry out successful cyberattacks. Another good practice is to always ensure software is up to date. After implementing cybersecurity protections, manufacturers should make sure employees have comprehensive cybersecurity training to avoid any accidental actions that can open the network up to attacks.
The Future of Medical Device Manufacturing
Increased digitization can help the medical device manufacturing industry overcome some of its main challenges. Implementing smart and advanced manufacturing technologies often improves efficiency and reduces cost within manufacturing facilities. And as everything becomes more digitally connected, manufacturers must ensure sensitive data and medical devices are protected from cyberthreats.To learn more about technologies that can help medical device manufacturers overcome challenges, attend EASTEC.