Outsourcing Booms in Medical Manufacturing

Rob Spiegel

June 25, 2013

3 Min Read
Outsourcing Booms in Medical Manufacturing

A walk down the aisle at the recent Medical Design and Manufacturing show in Philadelphia showed evidence of a budding trend -- outsourced medical device manufacturing.

Ordinarily, we think of outsourced manufacturing in terms of high volume, low mix products such as TVs and laptops. Medical equipment has long been viewed as too complex for outsourcing. That's changed, and new research from Frost & Sullivan adds data to substantiate the anecdotal evidence.

According to Frost & Sullivan, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) need to keep up with rapid technical advancements in electronics. That favors outsourcing, since the electronics manufacturing service (EMS) providers are well schooled in electronics. Consequently, OEMs are increasingly turning to EMS providers to better handle the escalating volume of electronic content in the medical devices. Opportunities in high-level product assembly and complete-build projects are going to EMS companies. Given all this, the potential for EMS in the medical industry is expected to double over the next few years.

Frost & Sullivan's research finds that the market for EMS providers in medical earned more than $16.43 billion in 2012. Frost & Sullivan estimates the EMS' share of medical manufacturing will more than double to $34.38 billion by 2019. Rising demand for engineering support, as well as improving EMS competencies in product introduction, manufacture design, and value-add services will boost EMS growth in the medical industry.

In the past, North American medical and defense industries have chosen not to outsource their manufacturing. For medical, it was presumed that EMS companies have not had the expertise to produce high complex, low volume medical equipment. Frost & Sullivan research suggests things have changed in the EMS industry.

"EMS providers have definitely come a long way in terms of transforming OEM mindset regarding their expertise," Lavanya Rammohan, research analyst, electronics manufacturing equipment at Frost & Sullivan, and author of the research, told Design News in an email. "Most EMS companies have better manufacturing and in-house resources and domain knowledge for low to mid-volume and high-mix manufacturing in comparison to medical OEMs." Because of this, medical EMS providers are now increasingly playing the role of a strategic partner as opposed to simply a low-cost contract manufacturer.

Given the stringent regulations in medical manufacturing, not all products can be outsourced. Even with the growing expertise of EMS providers, the risk of liabilities prevents OEMs from outsourcing several services. OEMs are under huge scrutiny, which limits their outsourcing to tactical operations, such as printed circuit board assembly and sub-system assembly.

"This is a factor that is slowing outsourcing to cost-competitive countries," Rammohan told us. "There are stringent FDA and certifications/approvals that are needed to bring products back into the country. This is a reason why Tier 2 and Tier 3 EMS providers that lack global footprint have done well and not lost opportunities due to lack of global presence."

Most of the medical outsourced manufacturing is focused in North American and Europe. "In terms of OEM requirements, North America and Europe are on par with the overall outsourcing behavior," said Rammohan. "One difference is in North America, some outsourcing is being focused in Mexico as opposed to countries in the Asia Pacific."

The needed expertise tends to reside mostly in North America and Europe. "The dynamics of medical electronics manufacturing do not follow typical outsourcing trends," said Rammohan. "North America will continue remaining a strong manufacturing hub for high-end, complex, and high reliability medical devices."

While speed-to-market and medical electronics expertise are strong arguments for sending work to EMS providers, the overriding impetus is financial savings. "Cost is and will continue to remain the key driver for any outsourcing including the medical industry," said Rammohan. "This will be one of the crucial factors that will encourage EMS penetration into medical industry in the next three to five years."

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About the Author(s)

Rob Spiegel

Rob Spiegel serves as a senior editor for Design News. He started with Design News in 2002 as a freelancer and hired on full-time in 2011. He covers automation, manufacturing, 3D printing, robotics, AI, and more.

Prior to Design News, he worked as a senior editor for Electronic News and Ecommerce Business. He has contributed to a wide range of industrial technology publications, including Automation World, Supply Chain Management Review, and Logistics Management. He is the author of six books.

Before covering technology, Rob spent 10 years as publisher and owner of Chile Pepper Magazine, a national consumer food publication.

As well as writing for Design News, Rob also participates in IME shows, webinars, and ebooks.

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