For more than a year now, the global supply chain has experienced significant disruptions. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, factories manufacturing everyday objects like semiconductors, personal protective equipment, and bicycles, shut down resulting in global product shortages and long-lasting headaches for many business owners.
While the majority of news coverage has focused on trucking shortages and backed-up ports, the supply chain crunch is having a major impact on biopharmas and medical device manufacturers as well.
For example, parents of special needs children can’t find rubber tracheostomy tubes, while hospitals and clinics are struggling to stock up on basic supplies, like crutches and wheelchairs. In some places, like Utah, they’re even asking the public for donations.
Most supply chain experts don’t expect things to improve until the middle or end of 2022. Even so, there are several things biopharmas and medical device manufacturers can do to prevent hiccups and better prepare for the future.
1) Lobby the government. One thing that would help relieve supply chain headaches is legislation that supports an increase in domestic manufacturing. Researchers estimate that up to 80% of the basic components used in drugs are produced overseas, in places like China and India. When factories shut down in these countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they stopped producing many life-saving drugs.
Legislation isn’t something that’s written and passed overnight, but many experts agree it makes sense to reduce reliance on overseas manufacturers. An article titled “Time to Make Essential Medicines within the United States” and published by the Brookings Institute in June agrees, stating:
“For medicines that are essential to the health and well-being of Americans, it is vital to have some drug manufacturing options. That type of capability would insulate the U.S. from international disruptions and supply chain logistical problems. The same is true for necessary PPE and medical devices.”
Fortunately, lawmakers are taking notice. There are several laws pending in Congress, including Senate Bill 1366 and Senate Bill 2589, designed to encourage American drug manufacturing.
2) Invest in new technologies. New technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and automation have made it easier to improve operational efficiency, save money, and boost productivity. But what if there was a way to apply these tools to the supply chain itself?
Though it might sound too good to be true, it’s already happening. Some biopharmas and medical device manufacturers are crunching large amounts of data to spot process inefficiencies and supply chain performance gaps. This information is then used to increase or slow down production as necessary. Others are using these tools to forecast demand and predict supply shortages or other potential problems.
3) Improve relationships with your suppliers. One of the most important yet overlooked relationships in the supply chain is that of the manufacturer and the supplier. Without a strong working partnership, shipments may be delayed or canceled, product quality may suffer, or you might even run out of product altogether.
If your supplier is based overseas, take the time to study and understand their business culture. Make an effort to communicate every step of the way and lead with honesty and integrity. If you can build trust and understanding, it’s possible to thrive, even in the face of uncertainty.
4) Expand your network of suppliers. If you only work with one or two suppliers, you’re at their mercy. If a factory stops production due to a lockdown, it could be weeks or even months before things are back up and running. In the coming year, consider expanding your supplier network to other countries. The more you can diversify, the easier it is to keep up with manufacturing should the unexpected occur.
5) Establish a risk committee. The COVID-19 pandemic made many biopharmas and medical device manufacturers reevaluate their operations and supply chains. This disruption has been positive in a way because it’s forced organizations to adapt and evolve. Still, it’s a reminder the world is unpredictable. Risk is always present and it’s better to embrace that than ignore it.
In the coming year, evaluate every aspect of your operation. Establish a risk committee that consists of leaders from each department and regularly meet to assess what’s working and what’s not. To improve your decision-making capabilities, invest in tools that can provide accurate analytics and data.
No one knows when the supply chain will return to “normal,” but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for the uncertainty that lies ahead. Would you add any recommendations to our list? If so, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Please fill out the comment form and click the submit button below.