More and more medical device manufacturers are discovering that just settling for “off-the-shelf” solutions to the components they include in their medical devices and systems isn’t always getting the job done the way their discerning customers want. There are standard components that handily fit the bill, but more often these days, a more customized and need-specific solution may also required when the need arises.
But, before you decide which component suppliers will be nimble and creative enough to address your changing needs, you have to ask yourself a few vitally important questions:
Seems like an overly simplistic question, no? But, in our industry alone, foot switches for medical devices and systems, you’d be surprised at how many manufacturers are trying to pass off industrial grade products as medical grade. In a 2020 blog, Tapecon (a company that works with OEM product teams to improve their market competitiveness through outsourced manufacturing solutions), the FDA specifies that “materials approved for medical devices must be used in a suitable manner and manufactured to certain standards in order for the final product to be approved for medical use.” So you have to ask yourself: “is specifying such industrial technologies in the best interests of customers and the patients we serve?” Granted, some of these industrial grade products may save a few pennies, but long-term, is it worth jeopardizing relationships with customers vital to the success of your business?
According to a March 7, 2019 article in MPO Magazine entitled Medical Device Companies Need To Embrace Customer-Centricity, “Customer-centricity can be quickly defined as letting your customer’s or patient’s needs drive your product offerings. Find out what they want, how they respond to the products and experiences you are offering, how they feel about your company, and what needs are not currently being met. Customer-centric strategies can increase patient satisfaction and help you retain them going forward as competing products arise and shifts in healthcare continue to take fold.” In recent years, we have seen more and more examples of this need in our own foot switch business.
Christine Gagnon, BSN, RN, OR Nurse at a renowned major metro hospital reached out to us with a simple message: We need wireless foot switches in the OR! They are much easier to keep clean, they are a lot more cost-effective for hospitals, and they prevent slip trip falls, which is a significant safety issue. We responded immediately with the right solution by offering the latest products in our industry-leading wireless technology.
According to an April 14, 2022 article in Medical Design Network entitled: How To Find A Medical Device Component Manufacturer That Fits Your Needs, “There are some key functions that can be focused on to identify whether a potential supplier is likely to meet your needs. Four categories: Manufacturing Scope (do they possess the scale and technical skills and equipment); Expertise and Experience (a supplier that is experienced in working with their customers to minimize any disruption that can be key in lowering costs and quickly getting back on track); Ability To Meet Tight Deadlines (their ability to respond to changing demand) and High-Quality Customer Service (how can they provide support throughout the process?).” Furthermore, the right supplier can actually add strategic value. In a Jan. 30, 2019 article by Vulcan Spring Technologies (manufacturer of custom springs and assemblies), entitled More Than Products: How Suppliers Are Providing Strategy To Medical Device Manufacturers, “The top ways suppliers are adding more strategic value to manufacturers during the early stages of their healthcare products and medical services: prototype assistance; designs for manufacturing and assembly support; and subassembly focus for medical device manufacturing.” In 2022, a leading medical device manufacturer awarded Steute a major project after performing an in-depth capability analysis. Our commitment to R&D is evident not only by the size of our department (relative to sales) but also with our experience in custom-designed cabled and wireless foot switches specifically for the medical device applications.
All your component suppliers should first completely address the previous three questions to your satisfaction. Now, let’s get to the point about the need for your suppliers to help you take a vital step further: to cater to your manufacturing and customer needs and situations, i.e. do they have the capabilities to customize the perfect solution to meet new realities?
According to the MPO Magazine article mentioned in question #2 (above), “Today’s new generation of patients don’t just want customized solutions or better experiences, they demand them!” Further, in a November 20, 2020 Blog in Minnesota Medtec (manufacturers of high-quality medical tubing, balloons, connections, catheters, screws and nuts), entitled: Guide To Medical Device Components From Stock To Custom, “With customized medical devices, associated companies foresee future prospects in their operations, because this allows authentication and competitive advantage. This not only gives these companies an edge over others but also helps retain customers in their database.”
The last point in the paragraph cannot be under-emphasized: retaining your customers. They will have ongoing needs and issues that will come up, and you have to have the specific solutions to solve these issues quickly…or they’re going to seek out a new supplier who can! Recent case studies of our own have proven this to be true:
One of the world’s largest medical device manufacturers was hearing from their customers that they were concerned about wireless connectivity issues that can commonly occur in shielded MRI suites. We developed a customized hybrid foot switch solution that featured cabled backup where wireless signals could not be easily transmitted.
This medical device manufacturer had been using one of our competitors for years, whose industrial grade products could not offer them the robust signals and ergonomics their customers were demanding, so they switched to us because we offered the right products for the specific customer environments.
There are dozens of criteria you may be using to decide which component suppliers to use (price, service, etc.), but, if the collective wisdom in this article teaches us anything, it’s that the healthcare industry needs specific new answers to new challenges. These days custom is the new norm, specific is the new basic.