The ability to demonstrate agility is crucial as manufacturers settle into a new normal.
From IdustryWeek, October 5, 2020
By Peter Fretty
Change is hard. Being able to change on a dime or rapidly pivot to market demand is even harder. Why? Because despite claims of operational agility, change is uncomfortable and often means acting despite significant resistance.
Of course, in this era of continued uncertainty, it’s important that businesses both embrace and learn from change, explains Manish Sharma, group CEO, Accenture Operations.
As countries follow different paths in response to a health crisis like COVID-19, regional setbacks and recovery patterns place strain on supply, demand and workforces – often forcing organizations to repurpose capacity across locations. “This means leveraging upturns in demand in recovering areas to create fuel to either support the prospect of recurring stress, or to help regions in stress,” says Sharma. “It also means improving cross-channel inventory management with data and analytics, enabling you to reposition and repurpose inventories across geographies and customer segments.”
With change happening faster than humans can respond, companies will increasingly need to improve and accelerate their decision-making and operations with the power of technology, explains Sharma.
Pivoting through Synergies
Microbrush International, a Young Innovations company based in Chicago, is a well-established dental manufacturer with a solid reputation for providing a variety of different consumable applicators and brushes for restorative and preventative dental applications. However, when COVID-19 reached the U.S., the dental market was, at least initially, considered non-essential. This understandably brought Microbrush to a grinding halt. And, as a result, the company begrudgingly furloughed a lot of employees at its Grafton, Wisconsin, facility.
The decision to explore a meaningful pivot surfaced when a Young Innovations team member noticed striking similarities between the medical test swabs utilized for COVID-19 tests and the dental products the company produces in Grafton, explains Young Innovations CEO Dave Sproat. After the engineering team took a critical look at swab samples, the product development team worked with the U.S. Department of Defense as well as the Cleveland Clinic to ensure it had the right specifications – and that there was going to be a continued demand for the shortage should the company embark on the journey.
MicrobrushMicrobrush faced two key challenges in making its pivot a reality. “Fortunately, this immediate need aligned with a core competency of ours. We were producing 650-million dental swabs on an ongoing basis anyway for dentists, so the production capabilities and technology were already there,” says Microbrush VP of Product Development and Strategy John Frymark. “However, we needed an injection mold with the right length of swab as well as proper flexibility and breakpoints. We also needed to come up with an individual package solution that can be sterilized, since our similar dental products utilize a different handle shape and ship bulk in a 100-count package.”
The existing supply chain played a crucial role. One such partner was Procter & Gamble division iMFLUX, which was able to provide a mold within a few weeks, ultimately enabling Microbrush to run production swabs at the required density. The company also leveraged a contract packaging company.
“The result was in 90 days, we were shipping a gold-standard nasal pharyngeal swab, without any of the feature sacrifices seen on the 3D printed varieties,” says Frymark. “Being an FDA-registered, ISO 13045 certified facility, Microbrush had plenty of experience with all of the design control and validation activities to make sure that this is all FDA compliant. This was really a matter of leveraging our core technology to help the country address this shortage.”
Sproat tells IndustryWeek, although Microbrush has an established presence within the dental industry, creating test swabs meant entering an entirely new medical category. “We’ve learned our way through a lot of this in a short period of time,” he says. “We also needed to understand the commercial aspects of getting our product in the market — identifying the distributors of choice, understanding where swabs were going as well as what else needed to be sold in conjunction with them. We’re still learning, quite frankly.”
Understandably, the pivot to create swabs involved a tremendous investment of money (both in equipment and human capital), with the ultimate focus being on serving as an ongoing player in this market post pandemic. There’s only one other company that Sproat knows of manufacturing this product in the U.S. Microbrush recently produced its 20 millionth swab, with units available on the shelf and the ability to easily add production to hit 5 million units per week.
“What’s exciting for us is that it took 90 days from inception to commercialization, including the development of products, setting up the mold, recalling employees, figuring out packaging and sterilization and getting that supply chain ready for the U.S. market,” Sproat says. “Candidly, I am very glad as a leader here, to bring jobs back quickly. And we want to maintain those jobs because that’s really good for the economy.”
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