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March 26, 2021

Metal injection moulding for medical devices: Interview with INDO-MIM CEO Krishna Chivukula

INDO-MIM is a fully integrated producer of metal injection moulding (MIM) components, with more than 20 years of experience in delivering high-quality, cost-effective parts to a range of sectors. Medical Devices Network spoke to INDO-MIM CEO Krishna Chivukula to find out more about the company and its offering for the medical devices sector.

What is the company’s background?

It all started when a joint venture was formed with Precision Cast Components (PCC), which at the time owned the world’s largest MIM company called Advanced Forming Technologies (AFT). AFT was in the United States and there were markets that they wanted to go after, but needed an offshore low-cost manufacturing hub. We launched in India with PCC and started operations in 1997.

By 2001, PCC exited and the Chivukula family took the company completely private. We opened up our first sales office in the US and tried to access overseas markets in other parts of the world than we could from India. Our primary focus back then was automotive and some consumer parts. The company began to expand very nicely over the next six or seven years and, by the time I joined in 2007, company sales were around $17m.

How did INDO-MIM get started in products for medical devices?

Around 2009, we won our first programme in the medical sector and launched development tooling. We had little hiccups along the way on our first set of programmes, but it became very clear to us that once we worked through some of the nuances, there could be a growing demand for medical components.

Operationally, we thought ‘how do we get this started in a way that’s attractive for customers?’ Quality expectations for the medical market are different, so we made the decision very early on that instead of separating out our processes and mixing these streams, we were going to build a ‘factory within a factory’ for medical programmes. Eventually, we had an entire MIM plant that was run completely independently from our main facility, which is located just outside of Bangalore, India.

Then, we made separate verticals for engineering and quality control teams. When the customers saw this, I think it gave them a lot of faith that while we were still new in the medical space, we were committed to taking the right approach, and that’s really what got the ball rolling.

Who are your key customers in the medical device sector?

It’s safe to say that for the North American market, if you’ve had robotic surgery, if you’ve been opened in any way or had a surgeon use a laparoscopic device, you’ve come in contact with our parts! We’re doing work with most of the global players in the laparoscopic, endoscopic and energy devices spaces.

What is the value of MIM and how does it add to the manufacturing process of medical devices?

When you take laparoscopic instruments, smaller is better. Historically, these were made from machined components, but as these parts get really small it becomes very difficult to machine them cost effectively. Also, the whole medical devices market has started to move towards single use, so every time you do a procedure, you need a new piece. That can mean throwing away a component worth $60 after one use. And obviously, there’s a massive demographic tidal wave coming down the pipe in terms of the profile of the United States and the ageing of its population, so those costs are only going to escalate.

Medical companies began to realise the need for a mass production forming technology that can deliver high-volume precision components relatively cheaply, and MIM was right there. MIM involves filling a mould with metal and plastic and, then removing the plastic portion and essentially making metal parts using the design philosophy and geometries that can be embedded in plastic injection moulding tooling. The beauty of this is, once the process is dialled in and you have the tooling in place and the various process parameters established, you are able to scale programmes to mass production with very fast lead times and at competitive pricing.

What distinguishes INDO-MIM from your competitors?

Firstly, people think we’re in India because it’s low-cost and that’s really not why, although it does play a role in our cost-competitiveness. The advantage we get having India as the base of our global operations is that we have the engineering horsepower here to do very difficult high-volume projects reliably, which a lot of MIM companies don’t.

The other unique selling point for INDO-MIM is that we’re a company that’s been built mostly on failure – from learning from that failure, and then succeeding. We started from scratch; our top team had about eight months of training and in the beginning, they would fail over and over again, and every time they would learn. Twenty years later, when you’ve developed close to 10,000 MIM components, each one a distinct engineering project, the accumulated knowledge you get by solving so many problems enable you to do things that other companies can’t do in the component forming space.

What don’t your customers come to you for, that you’d like them to in future?

We want to start moving up the value chain and get into more full-device integration and assembly. We have the engineering and supply chain capabilities to execute some of these sophisticated sub-assemblies used in medical devices – for us, it’s the next logical step.  We’re already supplying kit assemblies for products like heart stabilisers, where we’re doing everything except for the gamma sterilisation, so we want to do more projects like that.

How do you define your company values?

 Our mission statement is to be the world’s leading supplier of cost-effective, complex parts using MIM as our core technology, while exploring adjacent technologies that are synergistic with MIM. Our company philosophy is fundamentally based on execution; we spend a lot of time figuring out how to make things happen both faster and easier.

One of the other key aspects of our internal philosophy is investing on capacity ahead of time. This approach has served us very well over the last 20 years; we have never had to turn someone down on a programme, unless it’s impossible for us technically.

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