Sourcing medical components in uncertain times

Farnell’s regional sales director, UK, Ireland and Benelux, Mathew Thorpe, offers ideas to keep medical products flowing.

The pandemic presented purchasers with a major challenge in sourcing electronic components. Demand for connected medical IoT devices, including devices such as thermometers, smart infusion pumps and MRI scanners, was already growing from an all-time high. Covid-19 resulted in health care systems facing an extreme shortfall of ventilators and their components, demonstrating a gap in supply chain from manufacturing, procurement, storage, distribution and delivery. If products destined for medical equipment are delayed, even for a short period, it can be a matter of life or death.

Balance this with the non-negotiable nature of medical equipment. A healthcare facility densely packed with medical IoT devices can encounter a range of operational challenges such as dropped network connections, security and battery management for portable devices. Medical IoT devices need to work correctly and unimpeded by interference at all times.

Buyers are faced with two challenges: accessing components in the quantities and timescales required; and accessing products with the required certifications for healthcare environments.

Manufacturers can seek to mitigate risk in their supply chains by taking the following steps.

Plan: Identify what you can do to mitigate risks.

Secure an appropriate level of safety stock: The appropriate level of stock might change depending on the external environment. Although safety stock means tying up capital, the impact can be lower than being unable to ship products due to a component shortage.

Design-in options: This is particularly important for medical certified equipment or components such as power supplies, sensors and displays used in medical applications. The challenges faced by component manufacturers have now changed from standard supply and demand shortages.

Alternate Sourcing: Being able to use alternatives is important. Challenges can also be location based, so if one display manufacturer can’t ship, it’s likely other suppliers with similar products will not have the same problems.

Distributors such as Farnell can further support manufacturers in sourcing the right components and leverage strong relationships with its broad range of manufacturers. When choosing a distribution partner, you should be seeking:

Items in stock: Look for a partner with products in its warehouse and warehouses in Europe for a faster, more responsive service.

Digital capabilities: pandemics affect people, not machines. This means digital distributors are better set to continue in this disrupted environment.

Technical support: A strong technical support team can help you modify designs to accept alternatives when supply is challenged.

Great relationships with carriers: You want to benefit from the best logistics support possible. Problems with shipping mean that until the product is in your factory, you can’t guarantee you will get it.

Strong relationships with key suppliers: You want a distributor with relationships with a broad range of medically certified suppliers so that you have options if stock is unavailable. During Covid-19, Farnell worked with suppliers to create some direct-ship options with suppliers so that stock could be shipped direct to customers from the supplier warehouse, speeding up the supply chain. Farnell also worked with suppliers to source additional stock at short notice for specific critical orders on behalf of their customers.