Do you have an abundance of ideas in your R&D lab that could deeply impact people’s lives while generating significant profits for your firm? Commercializing medical device technologies is one of the more challenging product development gauntlets today. Multiple factors — e.g., regulatory, financial, technical, supply chain, manufacturing, sales, and marketing — must all be weighed carefully up front to sort the idea wheat from the chaff.
The quicker we can fail by answering questions in product ideation with better supply chain data like the cost of a device, manufacturing processes, and lead times, the sooner we’ll be able to double down on the product idea winners.
Accelerating the conversion of ideas into functional prototypes, and ultimately approved production products, requires new supply chain approaches. We can’t simply do the same things that have led us to past success and expect different results.
More robust and detailed commercial data from the start during new product development can enable us to better prioritize the products that represent the highest upside. Great rewards stand to be realized by those leaders that optimize their firms’ early product ideation activities with greater, real-time supply chain market data.
The Case for New Approaches
Massive shifts underway in health care brought on by new technologies stand to disrupt the industry changing how customers interact with their health care providers and medical devices. Cloud technology, Internet of Things, and blockchain are a few technologies that are evolving how we develop our products and what they embody.
These same technologies are adjusting customers’ expectations for how they interact with their devices. As one example, people with diabetes now expect to be able to view their blood sugar instantly from their mobile app connected to the cloud and to the glucose device on their body. This customer connection expectation has led to an explosion in the complexity of medical devices and a larger set of considerations now required to build smarter devices.
Startups, like Dexcom, to established blue bloods like Zimmer, to industry newcomers like Verily (Google), are all experiencing a new frontier of innovation brought on by technology that stands to upend market shares in many segments.
3 Actions to Reduce Your Medical Device Time to Market
1. Tap Supply Chain to Quicken Your Pace
The need for speed is leading many medical device OEMs to adjust the way they view their supply chain organizations. Supply chain teams are now thought of as trusted coaches that can get the most out of suppliers, slashing time on product development roadmaps.
“Supply chain professionals play a key role—arguably the most important in many cases—in the successful launch of a new program,” says Jim Medsker, President of turnkey medical device product development and manufacturing firm Keystone Solutions Group. This strategic approach to supply chain involvement early and often in product development has paid off immensely for both established and newer OEMs.
Supply chain should be involved in a new development program as early as possible to gain a full understanding of design options, iterations, and product evolution. This enables supply chain professionals to align the best partners for a product team.
Supply chain team members are best positioned to pre-qualify suppliers earlier on. There are several tradeoffs – e.g., cost, risk, quality, and technical – among suppliers that your supply chain can distill down into succinct recommendations to save time. “Having a database of suppliers that’ve gone through at least a cursory qualification process helps ensure that the right supplier is chosen, and once production begins, there are fewer risks of execution,” adds Medsker.
Building personal relationships with supplier team members is critical. People do business with people. This is often lost in the fast-paced, technology-driven society that we live in. “When timelines are tight, costing models are strained, and manufacturing processes are pushed to the limit, suppliers with which the team has built strong personal relationships with will be more responsive, attentive, and creative in finding solutions and getting the job done,” stresses Medsker.
Supplier relationship management software is one way OEMs are standardizing supplier engagement tracking best practices between cross-functional teams. The net result yields strong supplier relationships due to an elevation in communication, awareness, and timeliness.
2. Include Suppliers for Rapid Execution
There are many benefits to partnering with component and service suppliers early on in product ideation and development. “Suppliers have extensive tribal knowledge in their field of expertise, which, when leveraged early in the product development process, can help ensure program success and reduced timelines,” says Medsker. When integrated into the product development process, including team meetings and design reviews, suppliers can provide valuable design input, material selection guidance, and input on cost and timing.
Medical device manufacturing, more so than many industries, is a highly regulated sector. Once you select a supplier, they are a true long-term partner that can be painful to part ways with. But this puzzle can be solved through transparent open book information sharing. It takes trust on both ends and, again, supply chain can help broker this level of partnership.
Newer Plan for Every Part (PFEP) cloud software tools, which enable buyer and supplier two-way information sharing, data editing, and tracking, have greatly reduced the time it takes to effectively execute and manage these types of close strategic partnerships. These software tools can be used to standardize and accelerate timelines across partnership structures: OEM to contract manufacturer, OEM to product development firm, OEM to supplier, all parties, or any combination thereof.
The net benefit to engaging a supplier early in the development stage is that your initiative gains a valuable, appreciative partner that truly becomes part of the team and takes ownership in their role and the resulting outcome. It’s a win-win-win for everyone: the OEM, the supplier, and the customer.
3. Outsource On-Demand Support
The explosion of device complexity has many firms deciding when to do something in house and when to outsource. Simply put, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to virtually integrate all the required expertise while also maintaining a fast pace of innovation. OEMs are finding that they’re better off pulling in the right resource at the right time to solve specific problems rather than trying to solve everything in house.
“Successful OEMs in the medical industry have typically done at least two things very well: 1) created impactful intellectual property and 2) developed a successful sales channel. If OEM’s focus their time, energy, and resources on these two key aspects of their business, and outsource the heavy lifting to key suppliers, they can achieve a higher level of success,” says Medsker.
Mid-sized to large OEMs are finding success partnering early with innovative new product development and services firms that can support all or part of early product design, development, and prototyping. Today, options are abundant to outsource any expertise, skill, or task up front in product development. Gone are the days of adding professional guesses to your product plans; if a piece of information needs to be obtained, then it can be cost-effectively sourced.
On-demand services firms typically provide flexible support options as opposed to all-or-nothing approaches exemplified by traditional contract manufacturers. Their agile business models enable them to provide OEMs with a few hours of tactical support here and there, say identifying suppliers for a specific need, up to the delivery of a turnkey prototype. Small services firms offer OEMs access to “startup magic” in that they operate with smaller teams outside their walls and flat hierarchical structures to generate breakthrough concepts faster.
In fact, there’s actual science to back this up. See Ph.D. Robin Dunbar’s research Optimizing Human Community Sizes which highlights that, historically, humans are more effective in smaller teams. Even with all our communication tools today, these results still hold true. If we want a highly effective and productive team to develop breakthroughs, it’d be smart to designate a small internal team or to outsource the development of a concept to a specialized firm.
Small dedicated product teams appear to be one of the answers to accelerating new device development.
Develop More in Less Time
Marching an idea for a new device to market is one of the most exciting, impactful endeavors you and your team can take together. Along your innovation journey it’s important to be flexible and to keep in mind that your budget and schedule will likely change. Often, for truly all-new devices, to get to launch will take far more resources and time than you originally plan.
The path of developing a new product will more closely resemble a day in the life of an entrepreneur. Be prepared for the ups and downs.
As such, it’s important to appreciate the marathon you and your team are running. Embrace the possibility of pivoting. While in the beginning you might be convinced the initiative and outcome looks like “X”, don’t be too rigid when it begins to look like “Y”, as it could be a better route.
Best of luck picking up the pace on your innovation odyssey.