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The importance of a sustainable manufacturing plan

Posted: 10 Nov 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:manufacturing  PDLC  battery industry  medical  OEM 

The United Kingdom has emerged to be the 11th largest manufacturing country in the world, just after India. The manufacturing industry contributes $10.13 trillion to the global economy. Amid all this, recent innovations in electronics, thin battery technology and design engineering have proven to be confusing to many business leaders.

Product development lifecycles (PDLCs) in the battery industry have shrunk rapidly over the last two decades. It used to be normal for OEMs to deliver a new battery every two years but that is just no longer viable. PDLCs are now typically 12 months and sometimes even shorter. This could be attributed to the convergence of consumer and professional devices.

You could call it the Apple expectation or the Samsung effect. It describes the trend over the last few years for multinational consumer electronics giants to move to 12 month cycles, often launching devices in multiple sizes and iterations to gauge consumer adoption.

However, transferring these timescales to the medical market poses a slightly bigger challenge. As many medical practitioners now use their consumer electronics, smartphones, tablets and personal computers in the patient environment, they are beginning to demand the same characteristics from their professional medical devices. Wearables, including fitness bands and smartwatches, are now capable of monitoring patient vitals, especially for long-term patient rehabilitation plans.

Manufacturing industry

Medical devices are typically designed for a ten year PDLC, and because a typical lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack is capable of around 400 charge and discharge cycles before its performance drops, these devices use removable batteries.

However, with the rise of wearable and portable devices there is an increasing trend towards embedded batteries as OEMs can prevent unauthorised repairs, introduce forced upgrades through planned obsolescence and, because batteries can be embedded with less encapsulation, create even thinner devices.

The pressure on medical OEMs to conform to consumer demand has certainly created a dangerous precedent. Since 2013 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recalled over 200 products from active use. Recalls can range from less serious incidents of heart-monitoring phone apps crashing during use, to potentially fatal incidents, where endotracheal tubes can detach during use.

OEMs must be careful of these trends. While it might be ok if your smartphone or tablet loses battery at an inopportune time, it's much more important that your portable ventilator keeps going during surgery.

This customer and OEM push and pull often becomes challenging, especially when it needs to be managed across a wide product portfolio. For instance, at Accutronics when we launch a new range, we will almost immediately begin the process of developing the next one. I don't think this is necessarily all that unusual either but the push from customers can leave OEMs used to the traditional, slower PDLC open to risk.

Our processes reflect a wider change in manufacturing. When I joined Accutronics four years ago, project characteristics such as quality and flexibility were the highest priority for OEMs, but price has now become much more important. Now, when we form supplier partnerships with our customers, we have to provide the same high quality at a more competitive price point.

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