Supply chain lessons from COVID-19 at 2020 MedTech Conference

October 01, 2020
by John W. Mitchell, Senior Correspondent
In a panel discussion during AdvaMed's 2020 Virtual MedTech Conference, underway until October 7, experts provided a firsthand look at the challenges of acquiring the necessary components for manufacturing certain medical technologies, including various types of personal protective equipment (PPE), during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The panel, entitled Supply Chain and Procurement Challenges: From Purchase to Patient also looked at the logistical bottlenecks of transporting critical medical supplies and technologies to patients in the U.S. and around the globe.

To put these challenges in perspective, Dr. Trevor Gunn, vice president of international relations for Medtronic, noted that his company offers 131,000 unique products, for which it works with between 70-80,000 suppliers globally. By contrast, Gunn said major airline manufactures typically have about 20,000 vendors in their supply chain.

When it comes to more complicated devices and technologies, such as ventilators, production is only one part of the challenge.

Ramping up ventilator and other medical devices production in such a complex supply chain is only part of the challenge. Equally important is training physicians and nurses, often in low-resource parts of the world, to ensure the technology is being used correctly and will not cause harm to patients.

“You have a lot of crossover in different skill sets we've never really seen in other health emergencies, at least in my lifetime,” said Gunn. “You have nurses and doctors in one particular area of medicine crossing over quite suddenly into another. So that education piece as a part of the overall ecosystem is incredibly important.”

Scott Daubin, a partner with management consulting firm Bain & Company, discussed some of the critical capabilities of a sound supply chain. These include operating from an agile network structure for flexibility between suppliers and other partners to introduce products rapidly. If necessary, this is accomplished using alternative manufacturing and assembly methods. This includes onshoring and "nearshoring (think Mexico over China for U.S. suppliers). However, he cited an example of a medical supply company that spent big in the 90s to return production in-country during the N1H1 SARS epidemic, only to go bankrupt when the demand faded.

Daubin also recommended the adoption of predictive and prescriptive analytics for better insight. And he advocated decentralized decision-making, a problem-solving culture, and rapid recovery capability to meet pandemic supply chain challenges.

The third presenter, Roland Chong, head of global supply chain processes and trade management for molecular testing solutions provider QIAGEN, said that testing during the pandemic generated more biological data in six months “than in all of prior history.”

“(COVID-19) is continuous and really unprecedented. Only in moments of crisis do you realize you have an organization that is integrated, that is coordinated at a global level," Chong said. "It has really provided insight for us,"

One of QIAGEN's first actions was to establish a global leadership task force to cut across the entire supply chain — including procurement, manufacturing, planning, distribution to warehousing. He also said they focused on their top 20 highest-demand products, rather than trying to manage their entire product line.

Chong stressed that leveraging existing supply chain relationships for collaboration and engagement helped with addressing supply chain material shortages.

He anticipates that medical suppliers will be dealing with COVID-19 for the next 24 months. While not all supply chain problems can be immediately corrected, there are valuable lessons to be learned in preparing for the next public health crisis, he said.