Task force sees Covid supply chain shift

Task force sees Covid supply chain shift

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

A task force set up to address supply chain issues in building medical equipment in the UK and Ireland for the Covid outbreak is seeing a shift in component supply.  

The Task Force, set up by distributor Anglia Components, already works with contract manufacturers making medical equipment and is helping engineers move new designs into volume production and adapt existing designs.

“At this stage we are not seeing problems with shipments,” said marketing director John Bowman who leads the task Force. This is backed up by companies such as Analog Devices and XP Power prioritising supply to customers making ventilators and other medical equipment. However all are seeing potential issues in the next two weeks.

Established manufacturers and consortia in the UK and Ireland are expecting to make over 30,000 ventilators in the next four weeks, and Bowman says there is potential for this to happen.

“I believe from the activities over the last two weeks, where competitors are becoming collaborators, I would set an expectation that that work has to happen. Will it happen? That’s one of the big questions and we are doing everything we can on designs and modifications and the scaling up of existing manufacturers, and everyone doing their bit gives me much more confidence that it will happen.”

“We see three distinct categories of activities in the ventilator drive for medical power supplies, battery packs and sensor heads,” he said. “We have the established intensive care ventilator manufacturers that are scaling up production and licensing production rights to other organisations and many of those are our customers already through contract manufacturers, and we are making sure the right quantities are going to the right place,” he said. “The next categories are for neonatal, veterinary, anaesthetic ventilators being adapted and our engineers are helping them with those adaptions.”

Next: Covid equipment supply chain risks

“We haven’t found any problems that can’t be resolved,” he said. “We implemented improvements to our inventory last year for Brexit to protect against disruption in the supply chain. The different circumstances now mean its about global supply as well as our pipeline, where our suppliers and their stock is based. At the moment there’s not a challenge that we haven’t been able to solve.”

He points out that the risk is the same as for any traditional deployment of a design into volume production where the limiting factor is custom components from one bespoke supplier. Obsolete components can also be an issue for ventilator designs, many of which have been in production for over ten years. “We have a good database on what is recommended for a new design so we can avoid obsolescence, so devices that are around in volume for a long time to come,” he said.

Previous shortages of components have been resolved. “MLCC [multi layer ceramic capacitors]are in great demand but we are not experiencing any supply problems at the is time,” he said. “The risks to the supply chain globally are there but what’s really reassuring is the support from suppliers, and prioritising supply. There’s a lot of people understanding what the true priorities are.”

With lots of new companies involved in consortia there is also a need for accurate information to suppliers.

“Because of the diverse nature of the sub-systems its important for us to go to supplier partners with accurate, very specific and relevant information,” he said. “By plugging directly into those organisations and highlight the importance, that really does help with expediting the process, it’s key. We have to help them to help us.”

Medical sensor chip supplier Analog Devices is also expediting production of its healthcare technologies, including measurement and control devices in ventilators, respirators, diagnostic test systems, infusion pumps and patient monitors.

It is analysing its order backlog daily to identify and prioritise manufacturers of critical medical equipment as it says the supply environment is becoming increasingly difficult for them. It is also dedicating manufacturing lines to increase production of healthcare components to meet higher demand.

“ADI is committed to doing everything we can to ensure supply and expedite shipments of our healthcare products that populate the critical medical equipment being used in the front line of the fight against COVID-19,” said Vincent Roche, President and CEO. “We are also leveraging our domain expertise in partnership with biosensor companies, research hospitals and the international Open Source Ventilator project to deliver breakthrough technology and provide design assistance where it is needed most.”

Roche also says the company is working with governments worldwide to ensure ADI’s facilities or subcontractors’ facilities remain in operation.

Medical power supplies from XP Power are used in around 60 ventilator designs. “All our manufacturing facilities are currently operational,” it said today in a trading statement. “[In China] production capacity is expected to return to normal levels during Q2.  Our factories in Vietnam have continued to manufacture as normal with minimal impact from Covid-19.  To date, component supply has been resilient, but we are monitoring supply chains closely,” said the company.

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