The Internet has certainly shrunk the world by allowing almost instantaneous communication across its farthest reaches. The Internet has also let supply chains stretch around the world. That’s good because it opened doors for U.S. manufacturers. But the downside is that low-cost suppliers have more access to U.S. markets – and working with lower-cost suppliers comes with risk.
For instance, after manufacturers began taking products overseas in the 1980s, some offshored natural-rubber products were insufficiently washed during the manufacturing process. High levels of natural rubber proteins in the material were found to be responsible for allergenic reactions to patients in the U.S.
This illustrates how lengthening a supply chain can cause major problems in product reliability. Unsurprisingly, events of this sort affect more than the companies directly involved. That gives domestic supply chains distinct logistic advantages, such as accessibility and access to the FDA, and they’re more easily monitored. Before reconfiguring to an offshore supply chain, consider the following advantages:
U.S.-based suppliers – First, these companies will most likely have been audited by the FDA. That means Good Manufacturing Practices are in order as defined by the agency. A U.S.-based supplier can be audited by your internal quality department. Kent Elastomer Products has many medical device manufacturers performing annual audits.
In addition, U.S. production means shipments do not spend four to six weeks in a shipping container with unknown, non-medical products that may be subjected to contamination or variability with the elements such as temperature and humidity.
Inventory assistance – In an effort to keep product flow steady, trusted suppliers have access through customers’ secure portals to manage inventory levels. When suppliers have good working relationships, they provide access to their inventory to be closely watched by both supplier and customer.
Another example of how suppliers can help manage a smooth inventory flow is to carry inventory at the supplier facility. Customer releases can ship within 24 hours, saving the customer warehouse space and storage costs. Many times the cost is lower for the supplier to hold their customer’s inventory.
Partnerships in supply chains – Our partnerships have been successful by incorporating Lean manufacturing for cost-saving projects, improving inventory controls and developing new compounds for new products. Suppliers have launched themselves on a journey of continuous improvement by incorporating tools such as Kaizen teams. These groups gather regularly to attack and improve areas within the company found to be inefficient. The Kaizen groups are made of an eclectic group of employees, not upper-level managers, so solutions and process changes accomplished by the team associated with that process are often surprising and innovative.
For example, we involved a major customer in a Kaizen event held in our facility. Both companies formed one team and synergistically solved a quality issue.
We’ve also had several projects that resulted in new product offerings, such as lower-cost silicone alternatives. We’ve been able to develop TPE compounds with properties that are similar silicone, which reduces costs. This has proven to be beneficial within the BioPharm market. TPE compounds also have an advantage where clarity, permeability, weldability, and flexibility are important properties.
Other products developed to meet client needs include the inclusion of antimicrobial resistance. There is a cost involved, but when weighed against preventing a hospital-acquired infection, which is even more costly, infection-resistant materials can pay for themselves.
Another example, the R&D team here has been able to give medical gloves and drain tubes X-ray-absorbing qualities. These attenuating gloves let surgeons safely perform tasks in an X-ray field to let the surgeon properly locate a drain tube.
A final thought
A domestic supply chain and trusted suppliers will lead to several significant benefits, including improved communications, quick reaction times, improved quality, just-in-time deliveries, lower costs, and a long-term partnership.