Supply Chain Issues: Don’t Wait to Validate Options

2020 has been a year like no other. The Covid-19 crisis has strained the nation and our industry in ways that one never could have anticipated. For many of us in the Life Sciences sector, it has further reinforced the importance of what our industry can do for humanity while at the same time also exposing challenges within the Supply Chain which we can and should learn lessons from.

Sourcing Single — Use Components from Only One Vendor

Our industry has been asked to perform well beyond the norm as the world seeks a vaccine or therapeutic cure for Covid-19. As a result, supply chains are straining under the demand of working under compressed project schedules.

A big example in this space is the availability of TPE (ThermoPlastic Elastomer) weldable tubing. Shortages of material are rampant, and deliveries of tube sets and bags that utilize TPE as a component have been taking 26 to 30 weeks or longer. Even before the pandemic, our industry was beginning to experience longer lead times as single-use adoption has exploded, and this was further exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis. Companies responded to it by hoarding material, which continues to make the situation worse.

The lesson to be learned here is for companies to examine “pinch points” in their supply chain and to pre-validate alternatives.

When considering alternative products, it is important to understand the complete pedigree of the product being evaluated. For example, if the incumbent supplier and the proposed alternative supplier both use the same raw material sub-supplier or compounder, it may not fully protect against a failure or shortage at the sub-supplier/compounder level.

As an example, Acuity works closely with TBL Plastics, the manufacturer of an alternate TPE material called Cellgyn™. Cellgyn™ material is a proprietary product manufactured and distributed by TBL. Their compound was developed to TBL’s functional and regulatory specifications and was developed to be compatible for welding to the major TPEs on the market. This makes it a true alternative with a fully isolated supply chain, and many of our clients have reached out to begin the process of validating it for use in their processes.

TBL also offers tube-set fabrication in their ISO7 cleanroom and can provide gamma irradiation of the final assembly. They are a flexible, nimble operation that will work to meet the needs of our clients.

Consider Alternative Technologies

The old adage of “doing what you’ve always done” has its limits. As projects have been ramping up with extremely aggressive timelines, many incumbent suppliers are strained to the limit. Often, new technology and/or new suppliers exist, but clients seldom have the time to evaluate the technology or a supplier once a project ramps up. As a result, projects are often constructed without the benefit of the best options or the most capable suppliers that are available.

The lesson here is for companies to include supplier and technology evaluation as part of the normal routine.

Consider working with local distributors that are true business partners and are proactive in these areas, bringing you the best available options so you don’t have to spend time finding them. The right partner should understand your process, listen to and understand your challenges, and always be working on your behalf to find better ways to meet your goals. They should be willing to invest in the evaluation process with programs such as guaranteed performance, delayed billing, or free test samples.

Let’s look at single-use plastic bag holder totes as an example, since they are becoming more common in our industry. Almost every Life Sciences facility utilizes them in some capacity; in some situations, a simple “off-the-shelf” product is appropriate — but in others, a more robust, custom solution may be required. There are a number of local job shops that cater to the local Life Sciences plastic fabrication market, but Acuity has evaluated and partnered with a much larger fabricator: PolyFab Plastics. This company is based in Missouri and has the capacity and bandwidth to bring a concept to reality on a project scale with unparalleled quality and speed. Rather than waiting for your next project, consider evaluating their capabilities now so they can be a viable option when the next project cycle begins.

Acuity Process is extremely focused on being another set of “eyes and ears” for our clients, bringing them solutions to real problems. Consider spending some time with one of our sales staff members virtually or in person to see what’s possible.