Supply chain challenges arising from the Covid pandemic and exacerbated by war and workforce shortages are changing the way medtech companies source suppliers. Key to obtaining the correct materials and developing redundancy in your supply chain is maintaining good communication between your engineering, design and procurement teams. We spoke with George Lewis, Vice President of Strategic Business Development at PTC, about some of the key communication pain points and how companies can bring these teams together to ensure quality products and a more resilient supply chain.
What are some of the potential problems that can occur if you have poor communication between procurement and engineering?
Lewis: No. 1 is regulatory concerns. You need to follow a supplier qualification process and prove that you follow tha process repeatedly. So, you need to get the process right, follow it consistently, and it needs to be documented with an SOP.
The other concern with life science regulations is that you have to think about the timing of some of these things. For instance, how do I balance the time it’s going to take me to qualify the new supplier with getting results as quickly as I can and not violating any regulatory constraints? That’s where the challenge arises, because engineering wants to focus on the design primarily. That is their passion. Qualifying a new supplier less so. That’s where it’s important to have a finetuned supplier qualification process.
How can companies—whether through SOPs, company culture or technology—ensure good communication between procurement and engineering and ensure their qualification processes are followed?
Lewis: To streamline communication, you really need to be working on the same page. So there needs to be a system where you centralize all your communication. Simplistically, it might be Slack or Microsoft teams, but if you’re really going to try and find success you need a tool that No. 1 has all the information that you’re collaborating around in it, and then helps you manage the conversation around that information.
That might be a supplier qualification workflow that gives the opportunity to not only track the process, but also have a conversation as part of the process. Envision having Slack tie right into that process so I can talk to you and say, “Hey I don’t understand what the problem with the supplier is.” That way you’re managing everything in the context of whatever workflow you’re working on.
So you’re creating a real-time communication system as you’re working?
Lewis: Yes, we’re seeing that more and more. For example, cloud-based data solutions allow people around the globe to communicate and access information in real time, but you need a mechanism for containing all those conversations in one place. If you have a paper-based process, it’s really hard to succeed and maintain good and timely communication. We have email. But we all get so many emails now that it can be hard to keep up with all the noise that’s in there. So how do you expect an engineer or a supplier to know that something’s a priority unless it’s in their home-based solution?
How have supply chain issues and the need for redundancy affected supplier qualification and communication between engineering and procurement?
Lewis: Things have definitely changed by virtue of supply chain challenges and Covid. What I have observed with our customers is that multiple source selection is occurring earlier and earlier in the design process. Much earlier than ever before. Previously, an engineer would say, “I can buy this from company A. Here you go procurement team. Figure it out, and we’re good to go.”
Now what we’re seeing is that companies in the earliest stages of design and development are thinking about the design such that multiple suppliers can make the component or components. So, the consideration in design has become, “How do I make this most flexible in order to accommodate the largest number of suppliers, and then qualify multiple suppliers before we even get into production?”
This, again, is where you need to have a unified place to access your communications and workflows. That will give you the backbone to be successful in your business. As companies are qualifying suppliers in the earlier stages and qualifying multiple suppliers, these tools provide the flexibility to do that. And your company culture will begin to build around the tool and your processes.