Like many of you, wherever I am, I find myself constantly involved in conversations about the current (fractured) global supply chain. It’s painful right now—for everyone. It is becoming increasingly harder to source and obtain goods, and we’re seeing the prices reflect this challenge as well. Fuel prices are soaring. Grocery prices continue to rise. And in fact, the US consumer price index saw the largest increase in May this year since 1981. We certainly feel it as consumers, but what does this all mean for the medical packaging industry? How can we avoid future supply chain disruptions?
It's really no secret that the healthcare packaging industry has been impacted by supply chain issues just as much as any other industry. Raw materials are hard to get, and logistics are a headache. So, it takes longer to produce medical packaging and longer to put it to use. While we can’t do much about the current state of the broader supply chain, here are a few ways to mitigate future risk of supply chain disruption in your packaging process:
A basic way to mitigate risk in your supply chain is to diversify your suppliers. Ensuring you have vetted multiple suppliers for each aspect of your sterile barrier system will allow for the ability to quickly switch as needed. Now, let’s reduce the risk further by talking about dual qualifications. Historically, most MDMs didn’t allocate the resources to dual qualify various materials for their packaging. Today, many companies are spending their investment dollars to do just that, specifically for high-running lines or products at the most risk.
To effectively dual qualify, when completing validation, you would qualify two packaging configurations that can be used interchangeably. Ideally, that means choosing similarly performing materials with similar sealing parameters from different suppliers. This allows you to avoid changing machine settings and significantly reduces your supply risk. If you cannot find two materials with similar parameters, finding two well-performing options from two different (or even the same) supplier still reduces your risk instead of being limited to one option. Dual qualification is a large investment of time and money, but in comparison to being line down, the ROI is certainly favorable.
Locally Sourced Materials
One of the biggest reasons for our hurting global supply chain is the logistic challenges for imports and exports. The scheduling is unreliable, there is minimal capacity to transport goods, and there is congestion at every rail and port. These challenges make it more and more apparent that sourcing materials—not only finished goods but each component or part—should be found geographically closer to the final destination. Still, the rule applies that the supply must meet performance and quality standards, but if there is a secondary option that can be sourced locally, it can help reduce your risk even further.
Be an Advocate for Innovation
Patient safety is still, and forever will be, the number one priority for our industry. However, conversations are starting to happen throughout the industry challenging how we think about our processes. Can we use materials developed from advanced recycling? Can we share qualification data, instead of having to requalify tried and true materials every time? By fostering these types of discussions, we open up the possibilities to innovate, broaden our options, and reduce our risk a little further each time.
The disruption that is occurring in the industry right now is nothing like we’ve ever seen before, but it will forever change the way we do business.