Medical device OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have more technical and supply chain demands than ever, and suppliers have to constantly evolve their offering to remain relevant as a partner. INDO-MIM is rising to this challenge by expanding on its engineering capability and consolidating its offering, as well as putting transparent communication at the heart of its operations.

A new challenge

Metal injection moulding (MIM) technology meets many of the component-level demands of manufacturers of endoscopic and laparoscopic medical devices in terms of complexity of parts and quantities, enabling the production of smaller, more precise and better-articulated parts.

Krishna Chivukula Jr, CEO of INDO-MIM, explains that customers’ needs have changed since the company entered the medical device sector eight years ago. “Over the last four to five years, customers are really looking for something beyond just a MIM part,” he says. “We’re evolving into a mode where it’s not enough just to be great at MIM.”

Escalating supply chain challenge

As medical devices and components get more complex, they require multiple specialised processes to produce parts involving MIM, plastic molding, silicon ‘over-moulding’, and first level mechanical assembly. These capabilities are often provided by multiple suppliers, sometimes in different countries. The market has seen this trend develop over the last three to four years.

“The supply chain gets very complicated,” Chivukula describes. “It requires a lot of oversight from the OEM, so the desire is to have suppliers who can handle an integrated supply chain and bring in more specialised processes to offer not just a ready component but a sub-assembly.”

Broad offering, diverse capability

This kind of consolidation and integration often requires a higher level of engineering capability than many companies can currently offer. “That’s one of the areas where we have really been able to help our customers in medical over the past four to five years,” says Chivukula. “We have a large pool of qualified engineering resources who are passionate about what they do and the company has made strategic investments specifically for the medical device sector, to set it up as a completely separate vertical in our organisation.”

One of INDO-MIM’s priorities has been to develop new capabilities in-house. This includes functions such as plastic and silicon overmolding, carbide brazing, laser welding, machining and sub-assembly. It is seen in action with a 30,000 ft. expansion of the medical manufacturing facility. “It would also include 5-7,000 ft. of ISO Class 7 clean room space where we can expand more device and assembly integration for our customers,” Chivukula describes.

Another critical strength is in-house engineering capability for tool design manufacturing. “Having an in-house tool room with dedicated engineering resources that can be deployed quickly is a big benefit to our medical customers,” says Chivukula. It means that customers have much lower risk of a drawn-out line-down situation, resulting from tool breakage or modification.

INDO-MIM’s expertise in MIM and its associated processes also means that it can offer design-stage support to customers. The company has specialists to help with material selection and can even develop or customise materials in order to optimise their properties and performance for the function. “We’re also able to help with the actual component design to make it more MIM-friendly and feasible to manufacture,” Chivukula adds. “That provides a significant additional cost benefit.”

“Our product is contract manufacturing, to state simply,” Chivukula summarises. “Part of our philosophy is the vertical integration to ensure that the broadest range of processes are available in-house.” This strategy is designed to address the challenges that the company’s customers face, primarily the problem of supply chain integration.

Value in combination

The value of INDO-MIM’s offering is in its diversity, allowing the company to offer supply chain management, material specification and design solutions alongside MIM capabilities. This combination is what will take the company into the future as the medical device sector continues to innovate.

“Our service as a contract manufacturer is to bundle these capabilities with MIM as a more sophisticated solution,” describes Chivukula. “Whether it’s component geometry, material specification, developing a new material and wrapping that up with some supply chain integration – that’s the vision of how our products and services work.”

This vision allows the company to meet the varying needs of different OEMs around the world. For example, in Europe, the single-use market is less prevalent than in the US. “In Europe we’re getting more interest in our medical machining capabilities,” says Chivukula. As it entered the medical device sector, INDO-MIM realised that some OEMs favoured machining over MIM for low-volume production programmes. The company is now in the process of expanding its medical machining capability, with 50,000 ft. of the new facility in India to be dedicated to the process.

“We look at it as something that provides more service to our customers, gives them a wider range of options regarding the types of programmes that they can come to us for and gives them flexibility down the road,” says Chivukula. It will make it easy for an OEM to transition the production process from machining to MIM if the needs change and when the product matures in the future, without having to change the supplier.

Focus on communication

As INDO-MIM’s offering becomes more sophisticated, it will continue to be underpinned by effective communication and programme management. This is one of the central elements of US market operations in particular, with large OEMs requiring transparent communication at the engineering level. “It requires a high degree of communication and coordination with your customer because you’re doing something very critical,” Chivukula explains.

“I think we’ve handled that quite well over the last eight years since we entered medical,” says Chivukula. “But there’s always scope for improvement.” The team has dedicated program managers for specific high value programs and staggered work hours to cover the challenges arising from different time zones. In addition, the regional sales office personnel are available locally to troubleshoot any challenges in real time.

Looking forward

For Chivukula, the next challenge will centre on “understanding the supply chain and being able to leverage it effectively for our customers”. This includes identifying the best places globally to source medical grade products for new processes, undertaking extensive due diligence and learning how to better integrate external suppliers.

“As we started doing more sophisticated sub-assemblies, one of the biggest learnings over the past few years was that we can’t do everything in house” Chivukula says. “We’re not just managing our internal supply chain but learning how to integrate the external suppliers too.”