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Maintaining a Stable Supply Chain Despite the Pandemic

Jeff Cushner, Qosina
Qosina explains how business continuity plans, supplier management systems, and product development services have been put to work during the crisis.

Medical device supply chains have been challenged during the pandemic, demonstrating the value of redundancy and disaster planning. Companies that had planned for worst-case scenarios often found themselves better equipped to respond to challenges and identify solutions quickly.

For instance, Qosina, a ISO 22301–certified medical device components supplier, had already put a Business Continuity Management System in place prior to the pandemic. As a result, the company was able to pivot quickly to respond to the crisis.

We asked Jeff Cushner, Qosina’s vice president of sales and customer service, a few questions about COVID-19’s impact on the medical device supply chain and what enabled the company to respond quickly.

Have you seen buying patterns or business practices change in the medical device industry during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are there any lasting impacts or lessons learned from these changes?

Cushner: We have of course seen changes in purchasing patterns as a result of the changing needs of our customers. Purchasing patterns begin with the patient. During the pandemic, the medical market experienced a decline in elective patient procedures, which then translated into fewer products being used. There was, however, an increase in demand for infusion sets and ventilator-related items for COVID patients.

How have engineers’ needs changed or evolved? Are there any lasting impacts or lessons learned from these changes?

Cushner: Technology has evolved, but as related to the development of medical devices, the need of the engineers to fully understand the nature of the component being selected along with the assurance of quality remains steadfast. We believe that the assurance of supply of components has become a requirement to be addressed during the development stages of a new product. During COVID-19, some companies learned the hard way that their supply chain was not as robust as it needed to be.

Have you changed any stock offerings or add-on services in response to pandemic needs, and how might that impact your offerings in the future? 

Cushner: We learned that we needed to group items together by function. For example, we generated lists of components specific to life-supporting machines like ventilators and ECMO. We also incorporated items like swabs and transport tubes for COVID-19 testing kits to address the new customers we gained. In addition, we found new suppliers to use for second sources, ensuring a more secure supply chain for our customers.

Did the pandemic reveal any gaps in the medical device supply chain, and if so, how did you help fill those gaps? 

Cushner: We found gaps in our supply chain with regard to status of products. Meaning, items that we thought were still accessible actually were not and that has pressed us to look at new processes internally to update our information and vendors. Qosina has a robust supplier management system in place, and we initiated frequent meetings with our suppliers and freight carriers to minimize disruptions.

What was the most popular medical device component in 2020?

Cushner: I don’t think we can call out any particular component, but generally, anything related to COVID-19 was the focus for many customers. Additionally, customers who had concerns about supply-chain integrity ordered more to protect their business.

Were there any redundancy/contingency programs that Qosina had put in place before the pandemic that have since proven useful?

Cushner: Business continuity played heavily into our ability to operate and to maintain a stable supply chain for our customers. Being an ISO 22301–certified company offered significant advantage for Qosina and for our customers globally.

Having a Business Continuity Management System (BCMS) in place was critical to our ability to immediately assess the crisis and begin to implement the actions needed to keep our staff safe and keep our business operations running as close to normal as circumstances would allow. During the beginning of the pandemic, we cannot fathom how we would have been able to accomplish what then appeared to be the impossible if we had not created a system and a manual that quite literally provided the framework for action. We spent no time trying to figure out who would deal with the crisis or how. That work had already been done, and once Scott Herskovitz, our president and CEO, activated the plan, the Crisis Management Team was called together to implement the plan. The team was already established, and their clearly defined roles allowed for the work to begin immediately. We believe that our BCMS was the difference between our successful traversing of this pandemic and what might have been a very painful and costly journey if no plan were in place.

Quite frankly, our ability to act quickly, follow our plan, and begin implementing solutions from day one allowed our customers—many of whom are essential healthcare companies—to rest assured that the part of their supply chain that depends on Qosina would be there for them so they could concentrate their efforts on other issues arising from the pandemic. Our BCMS provided our customers with exactly what the plan is named for: business continuity, which is what we were able to deliver in the face of a global health crisis. 

Qosina offers modification of existing molds and new product design and development. Can you explain how these services were put to work during the pandemic, and what support you anticipate will be needed post-pandemic?

Cushner: Our ability to address our customers’ needs, even at the tool development level, is an advantage at any time. During the pandemic, we were asked to develop tools specific to COVID-19 applications in a short amount of time. In a high-pressure moment, knowing the severity of the problem, trust and cooperation between all teams became the key ingredient. Our customers asked us to perform and put their faith in our technical team’s hands, and thankfully, we were able to deliver to meet the timeline. We continue to offer this same support in or out of the pandemic-–hopefully soon to be post-pandemic.

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