From geopolitical upheaval to the climate crisis, businesses across all sectors are facing unprecedented challenges. Pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers seek to bring new products to market in a disrupted and constantly changing environment. Companies need to put in place strategies to keep their assembly systems running and to optimize the development of new products.
Here, we take a look at the top hurdles affecting the industry and how an assembly line solutions provider is addressing them.
Challenge 1: Supply chain disruption
The COVID-19 pandemic and war in Europe have significantly disrupted global supply chains. When it comes to building assembly systems for medical devices, a widespread shortage of electronic components due to missing microchips has threatened productivity. Without servo drives and their cables, for example, no assembly system can be built.
Leading automation solution provider Mikron has developed strategies to ensure it can source the necessary parts, says Mikron COO Rolf Rihs: “We have to plan and forecast our purchases of materials from the market,” says -he. “We used to plan maybe six months ahead, but now we have extended that considerably. Early anticipation has allowed us to avoid major difficulties.
One of the ripple effects of disrupted supply chains has been rising prices, with some components costing up to ten times more than before. For Mikron, it took a lot of effort and flexibility from all staff, from general managers to supply chain staff, to find the right suppliers.
“We also have significant in-house manufacturing capability for metal parts, and that has helped us a lot,” adds Rihs.
The good news is that global microchip production is beginning to recover and shipping capacity is returning to normal. “I’m an optimist,” says Rihs. “I think in the middle of next year the situation will not be perfect, but it will get better.”
Challenge 2: Talent shortage
According to ManpowerGroup, 75% of global companies experienced a talent shortage this year, and this problem continues to grow. Building assembly lines for pharmaceutical and medical devices requires more engineers and technicians than the market can supply.
Businesses can use education to develop their own talent pools. “We run an extensive apprenticeship program in Switzerland and at our location in the United States,” says Rihs. “At our head office, we have 46 polymechanic apprentices. They will acquire all the necessary skills that a technician will need later. Thanks to the work-linked training system in Switzerland, a good number of polymechanics will continue their training with an engineering degree.
And with employees demanding more comfort and flexibility from their workspaces, Mikron has invested more than 20 million Swiss francs in a new modern office layout to make its working environment more attractive.
Challenge 3: The Race to the Market
In the medical device industry, time to market is critical to gaining competitive advantage, and the pace of development continues to accelerate. In order to keep up, manufacturers need new ways to save time.
“In the past, they would develop a device, then test it, then buy an assembly system,” Rihs says. “To reduce time to market, we can parallelize final product development and assembly system construction, and help our customers gain speed.”
At the same time, the growing demand for more complex products means manufacturers need larger assembly programs than ever before, often with two or more assembly lines running in parallel. Mikron meets the needs of the most important programs in the shortest time by leveraging the capacity of the entire company, at all of its sites.
Another way to save time downstream is to avoid errors and optimize designs right from the start. Mikron brings to the table 50 years of assembly experience to advise customers on how best to design their products for manufacturing.
“The assembly system is an essential part of the product launch,” says Rihs. “Mikron has done a great job over the years and has proven to our customers that we are there for them when they need us. »
Challenge 4: ESG standards
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing has been accelerating since 2014, according to Forbes. Stakeholders demand accountability from companies and pharmaceutical companies need to be able to demonstrate their commitment. “It’s a priority for our management program,” says Rihs.
Mikron is leading by example by taking action to set and achieve the 2025 and 2030 goals in areas such as sustainability and diversity. For example, the new Swiss factory includes solar panels which generate around 25% of the building’s electricity consumption, and the gas heating has been replaced by a CO2– neutral heat pump system. The apprenticeship program aims to champion women in engineering.
For manufacturers, a well-designed, high-precision assembly system enables energy-efficient product assembly, planned to the highest standards.
Take on the challenge
Innovation is fundamental to meeting new challenges, and as the world changes around us, cutting-edge technologies are opening up new possibilities for manufacturers in all industries. Digitization, for example, creates efficiency gains for Mikron customers. An assembly system generates millions of data points per hour, and Mikron helps manufacturers access and analyze this data to optimize their operations.
“We want to continue our journey of investing in innovation and ensuring that we use the best available technologies in our assembly systems,” says Rihs. “It’s a key part of our past and future success.”
To learn more about how automated assembly systems can help you overcome the industry’s most pressing challenges, download the white paper.
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