The medical industry requires attention to detail in design and the highest levels of control in manufacturing from sourcing materials to quality control in production, as well as extensive record-keeping for traceability. These qualities are embedded in Alexander Technologies’ approach to design and manufacturing, resulting in a complete solution.
GlobalData caught up with Michael Shirley, president and CEO of Alexander Technologies, to discuss the company’s new factory expansion, and what the future holds amid the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Alexander Battery Technologies is globally renowned for its custom battery power solutions used in a variety of applications; what products and services do you offer for the medical industry in particular?
Initial engagement includes an extensive and vetted quote which then moves into a full-service in-house electrical design. The design process includes the selection of cell chemistry from trusted and key suppliers, cell size, pack capacity, full protection for board design with almost all manufactured packs listed as ‘Smart’ packs. This includes full cell balancing, fuel gauging and availability of on-board charging if required. In addition to electrical design, Alexander will also provide a full mechanical design, and source all plastic tooling for any encasement requirements.
Due to the nature of lithium-ion, Alexander is also extremely focused on all regulatory requirements. We specialise in understanding ever-changing international requirements for battery packs and can provide proper guidance for small, medium and high-volume quantities.
The design and manufacturing are also supported by full supply chain management as Alexander leverages its established network to remove the risk of component availability and shorten lead times. This includes complete support throughout the product lifecycle and management of any potential end-of-life scenarios.
What new products do you have in the pipeline geared towards the medical industry? Will we expect to see anything new from yourselves over the next 12 months?
Although most of our product line is engaged with our large OEM medical customers under confidential agreements, we can discuss the current projects in general terms as we are currently working on several new designs. Almost all new projects are ‘Smart’ lithium-ion battery packs with customer-specific plastic designs.
One example is a handheld medical device used in analysis and diagnosis that includes ‘Full Smarts’, onboard charging and custom plastics that will be in production in late 2021. In addition, we are working on a standalone charger specific for the product that will allow charging of additional standby battery packs.
Another example is a product update for an infusion pump system that will assist the customer with additional reliability and address concerns over end-of-life components, as well as assist in the streamlining of the production process by simplifying extensive test procedures.
The company recently completed a major factory expansion and modernisation – what drove you to expand? Have you found this to be a positive investment thus far?
The factory expansion was largely driven by demand and Alexander’s goal to continue to modernise operations. We have more than doubled our manufacturing lines and added manufacturing, test and engineering equipment, as well as additional laboratory space for development.
The expansion has been extremely well received both internally and externally. We finalised the expansion plans in 2019 and began buildout at the beginning of 2020. In the face of significant demand increases due to Covid-19, we were able to proceed with our construction schedule and secure our additional facilities to assist with the massive increase in product demand. We are very pleased that our products high levels of performance have enabled our customers to be successful in their markets and increase their market share.
Do you have any plans for establishing new factories elsewhere? If not, where would you like to see the company expand to?
Alexander currently has a footprint in the UK, USA and Asia. We are considering a strategic alliance in Eastern Europe and will continue to evaluate this area as a potential opportunity. We will always continue to evaluate the benefit of expansion into additional areas as a better way to serve existing and potential customers.
Alexander Battery Technologies has been heavily focused on supporting the efforts of fighting the Covid-19 crisis around the world – how have you found the pandemic has affected business as a whole?
Massively. A significant portion of our business is focused in the Health, Safety and Medical segments. Alexander was immediately provided critical supplier status by both the US and UK government and was largely in response to the significant need represented by our large, international OEM customers. Demand for our product increased by 300% – 1,000% in a very short period and was virtually overnight. This challenged us on every front and forced us to cut lead times for every aspect of the business – supply chain, design changes, regulatory control, manufacturing and test, as well as the sheer challenge of inventory control. In the face of this challenge, I was extremely pleased and proud of the company’s response to this vaunting challenge as we were able to meet nearly all of the demand requests for our products while continuing to maintain our stringent quality standards.
It looks as if the pandemic will have long-term effects for all of us, as individuals and businesses – what changes can we expect to see going forward for yourselves as a company? What does the future look like, with the current pandemic in mind?
We will continue to see pandemic-related changes in the business. Some of the changes we have seen at the outbreak will stay with us, some will drop off to some extent as the world settles. However, the changes we have put in place in terms of new facilities, equipment, changes to process control, resources (training) will stay embedded in Alexander going forward.
Although the pandemic has had a major impact on so many people, it has had a beneficial effect in some areas as it has forced us to make changes quickly which could otherwise have taken a more prolonged approach. One example is our expedited approach to component changes where we saw shortages driven in the market due to many companies’ attempts to stockpile keyboard components. Working with our key suppliers, engineering resources and expediting any regulatory requirements, we were able to achieve component approval changes in a fraction of the historical time. This will not always be necessary but helps to protect our product in the event of some unforeseen issue.