Confident transparency. Customers want to work together with their suppliers to solve difficult problems with technical solutions in a collaborative relationship. It is important to work with your customer’s design teams and offer valuable insight in altering a design for performance, cost, or production improvements. Collaboration instills confidence and builds a stronger relationship between you and your customers, which translates to additional business and a broader look at the commercial opportunities for our business. The philosophy is this: correctly solving a customer’s problem today is an invitation to participate in future product development tomorrow.

Be your customer’s expert. Processors must have key relationships with resin suppliers so they can get full support on existing and future polymers that will be introduced to the market. Diversification can aid in product advancements for one industry, and can be incorporated into products and manufacturing methods for other industries to give customers a unique product and help secure a position in their marketplace.

Figure 3. Piper Plastics goes beyond just process control and mechanically tests every lot and batch of product produced in their on-site analytical lab to ensure the product meets predetermined customer specifications.

Trust but verify. We can all become complacent by relying on robust product validations, process controls, and data-acquisition systems to shelter us from manufacturing a product that is out of specification and ultimately scrapped. However, those of us that have been around manufacturing for any period of time recognize that Murphy’s Law can jump into a process at any time. Inconsistent or incorrect lots of raw materials, rouge process sensors, and even ambient conditions can all have the potential to create process issues, and can be easily overlooked and difficult to explain to your customer.

For example, customers who want a medical manufacturing company with robust quality systems independently certified, like ISO 13485, view external audits not as a burden, but rather as a continuous improvement activity and an opportunity for them to assess the supplier’s operations and depth of the talent pool (Figure 3).

More than extrusion. We must always be concerned with bringing additional value to our customer from downstream machining, welding, and component integration all the way up to the final assembly. Customers are looking for vendors who are vertically integrated with multiple manufacturing disciplines under one roof as a way to further enhance finished assemblies and eliminate costs through vendor reduction.

Figure 4. Piper Plastic’s processing technology allows the production of non-standard shapes that yield exceptional mechanical properties to reduce material usage and drive large cost reductions. The near-net shape on the left is an example of a custom profile that replaces the original standard medical stock shape rod that is traditionally available in the marketplace.

Vertical integration usually equates to cost reductions, but more importantly, one source taking ownership of the assembly functionality can improve quality and speed the time to market. All too often in the conventional supply chain, sub-suppliers point fingers when problems occur with the final assembly. However, a vertically integrated supplier streamlines the process and minimizes issuesassociated with multiple supply partners.

When less is more. Sustainablity and waste reduction is important in all industries, but nowhere more critical than in medical implant extrusion, where the raw polymers can cost $1,000 per pound or more. Customers are no longer accepting that the traditionally supplied, standard shapes are the only option, but are investigating alternative geometries that drastically reduce material usage and better replicate the finished machined part (Figure 4).

This article was written by Dave Wilkinson, Materials Engineering Manager at Piper Plastics, Chandler, AZ. For more information visit 

Medical Design Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2016 issue of Medical Design Briefs Magazine.

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