When the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased demand for respirators across the world, Smiths Interconnect rapidly scaled up its production of battery connector flex assemblies, calling upon teams across the business to rise to the challenge. This display of quick thinking and ingenuity demonstrates the company’s commitment to responding to real need and enhancing lives.

Unprecedented demand

For more than 10 years, Smiths Interconnect has been providing custom battery connector flex assemblies to a corporation which operates in the fields of industry, worker safety and US health care.

Battery connector flex assemblies incorporate four spring probes, a plastic housing and a flexible printed circuit board (PCB). For the past ten years, the client’s demand for this assembly originated almost exclusively from Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

But something significant occurred in January 2020. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a dramatic increase in demand for respirators across the world.

Since Smiths Interconnect is an important provider of battery connector flex assemblies that are used in powered respirators, we have seen our business increase dramatically since last year and expand globally.

Rising to the challenge

However, this sudden increase in demand for our custom flex assemblies did pose some challenges. Smiths Interconnect has been providing this line of product to the client since 2008, so the supply chain already existed. The real challenge was to make sure that our supply chain and our own manufacturing processes were capable of ramping up production very rapidly in order to meet this unexpected increase in demand.

In response, our sales and marketing team immediately informed the operations team that a significant order may be coming soon. Our planning and procurement professionals quickly analysed the potential gaps in our supply chain under the assumption that we would receive the large order. The global procurement team engaged our suppliers to obtain the additional capacity and cost benefits associated with the increased demand, whilst the planning team worked with local manufacturing engineers to add the tooling and fixtures required to meet the higher demand, as well as calibrating the schedule of our supplier deliveries. The sales team also worked hard to identify a single point of contact with the client, since the global demand was adding complexity to their requirements.

The bigger picture

Because of the collaboration and proactivity between each of these teams, Smiths Interconnect was able to respond with increased output just three weeks after the receipt of the purchase order, and maximum supply chain throughput was achieved within just six weeks.

The response of our supply base to our time-sensitive requests was also impressive. Our supplier re-allocated manufacturing capacity at short order, dedicating precision turning machines to the 24/7 manufacture of spring probes to meet the required production rate. Another supplier proactively suggested minor revisions to component geometry, allowing them to eliminate a rework activity, and then manufactured a new injection mould tool at their own cost in order to meet the increased demand.

“I am very proud of the way that our cross-functional teams worked together to meet not only our customer’s needs but also the needs of the communities we live in,” said Dustin Allison, the plant manager at our Kansas City site where our connector flex assemblies were designed and manufactured. “There were some complexities with the requirements from the customer, as well as our own supply chain, but teamwork and good communication allowed Smiths Interconnect to perform at its best.”

Whilst it is heartening to see that the demand for respirators is beginning to fall now, considering that the company’s spring probes battery connectors are suitable for various medical devices power requirements, Smiths Interconnect is committed to working with partners for many years to come on more life-changing technologies to enhance the lives of people across the world.