Bringing Automation to the Front Office in Medtech

Automation in medtech manufacturing isn't just for the shop floor.

Steve Bieszczat, CMO

June 7, 2024

7 Min Read
Automation concept illustrated by a finger pushing an "automation button" surrounded by business icons
Image by jittawit.21 / iStock via Getty Images

When it comes to automation, many medical device manufacturers can point to modern shop floors with specialized production equipment, robotics, and material handling systems. Those are important investments in enabling the business to successfully meet market requirements, compete on the basis of quality and service, and drive customer adoption and loyalty.

At the same time, most medical device manufacturers need to invest more in automating their front-office operations if they want to achieve long-term cost savings and efficiencies. Front-office employees tend to be more entrenched in the business and are often more skilled in their jobs than shop floor workers, many of whom are temporary staff that are added and reduced to meet production demand. Yet, in most companies, fewer of these front-office employees’ tasks are automated.

Moreover, front-office automation can deliver measurable gains that impact the business at multiple levels. For example, one manufacturer has automated individual customer pricing in the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, cutting the time from 2-1/2 to 3 weeks for manual updates to just 2 hours. The same company also cut the billing process from a 4-hour manual exercise to an automated one taking 15 minutes. These moves have not only improved employee productivity; they have also resulted in greater trust among customers and higher profitability.

Getting started

So, how can medical device manufacturers start automating their front-office operations? Let’s begin by understanding the four key automation concepts that impact the core office team, including employees in accounting and finance, order entry and customer service, inventory and purchasing, and planning and scheduling.

  • Have information at your fingertips.

  • Utilize automatic rather than manual calculations and reporting.

  • Use digital data as opposed to information on paper.

  • Rely on automated workflows and alerts.

Together, the four concepts interact to deliver information, planning, and results that are more accurate and less labor-intensive than manual systems.

In putting the front-office automation concepts into practice, manufacturers typically rely on a fully integrated ERP system to drive a combination of workflows and alerts. These workflows create a digital path for data and processes, while the alerts manage exceptions. Digital data is the fuel powering automated workflows and alerts. That is why the document control functionality of an ERP system is also important. It scans paper data into digital images and then indexes, orders, and stores digitized documents along with structured data files and unstructured data, such as emails. So, the information is digital, secure, and readily accessible to authorized team members plant-wide.

Now, let’s review six real-world examples of how technology is applied to front-office automation concepts within a medical device manufacturing business.

1. Fulfilling a sales order from inventory

When a sales order arrives, it can trigger a number of actions that cross multiple departments. This order may arrive electronically, in which case the ERP system will register the demand automatically. Or the order may come in through a phone call, and someone at the sales desk can use the ERP system’s order entry feature to input the order. Either way, once the order is in the ERP system, it will check the customer status on the accounts receivable (AR) side. If the customer has established credit, the ERP software will create demand in the system.

For this example, let’s assume the manufacturer produces class I devices. In this case, the demand will then trigger an audit of available finished goods inventory. If there is sufficient inventory, the software will create the pick, pack and ship instructions for the warehouse along with the new AR entries. If the credit is good and the inventory is available, the order will ship, and nobody but the warehouse will perform any manual actions.

2. Fulfilling a sales order without available inventory

Let’s consider a situation where there is not sufficient inventory of class I devices, or the company only produces class II or class III devices on demand. Either way, product must be built. So, the order workflow will check for available raw materials, tooling, production equipment, and labor. If the ERP software finds all the necessary resources, the job is automatically scheduled and runs in some future production window.

If the necessary resources aren’t available—say, there’s a lack of raw materials—the software produces a purchase order for the raw materials and creates a production schedule based on the known lead time for those items. Additionally, the order desk is made immediately aware of the situation; the unmet resource needs are expedited, and the customer is informed of the best available delivery date. In this example, the front-office tasks are minimized, and the first manual work begins in the factory or the warehouse.

3. Optimizing inventory

As we’ve seen from the last two examples, inventory—or the lack of it—impacts a number of processes in a medical device manufacturer’s operations. Because it typically represents one of the company’s larger cash investments, optimizing inventory levels is essential. There needs to be just enough on hand to support customer needs and avoid having  to pay expedited purchasing and shipping fees.

Automated inventory control systems precisely keep track of the flow of goods and can use the information developed to quickly model inventory requirements and anticipate needs. This drastically reduces manual inventory audits and the need to expedite materials. Automated inventory control, and its analog function of automated sales forecasting, are two examples of machine or artificial intelligence readily available to manufacturers to reduce front-office costs.

4. Streamlining approvals

Let’s imagine that the incoming customer request is a special order requiring the purchase of a large amount of raw materials. The workflow dictates that orders of this size must be approved by finance. The purchase order is therefore routed to finance for approval, but the controller is out of the office, and the purchase order is delayed pending approval. Alert rules see that the purchase order has stopped and notify, or alert, the purchasing department of the need to get approval from an alternative executive, or in an even more sophisticated system, automatically push the order higher up the approval chain.

5. Managing production constraints

Now consider: What if the constraint is not raw material but available machine time because the equipment required is scheduled for other jobs? In this case, automated scheduling within the ERP system can quickly perform a what-if analysis, i.e., “If we move the urgent job to the top of the list for the constrained machine, what other orders are impacted?” The answers are instantaneous and will either result in an acceptable re-ordering of the schedule or a definitive answer on the best possible delivery date. This is how automated calculations result in near real-time insights to inform the customer and the production team with minimal time and effort.

6. Managing KPIs

A medical device business runs better when clear budgets and key performance indicators (KPIs) are in place. A natural result of front-office automation is reportable information against key KPIs, such as: How have we invested in inventory? What new orders came in yesterday? What is outstanding AR, and what are our cash balances?

Dashboards provide an automated mechanism for publishing KPIs. They access information from all parts of the system and publish it to authorized viewers in easily read formats, such as graphs and charts. In this way, dashboards can be viewed as a form of alert. Parameters are set on what to report, to whom and when. Then they run on autopilot. Instead of using valuable financial staff time to report on KPIs, the reports run automatically and can even be configured to only pop-up when the results measured against a KPI are either too high or too low.

The scenarios presented here are just six ways that front-office automation can help to reduce costs and inefficiencies while improving timeliness and accuracy. By harnessing the power of a fully integrated ERP system to automate front-office processes, medical device manufacturers can increase their profitability and gain operational benefits that will impact the entire business for years to come.

About the Author(s)

Steve Bieszczat


Steve Bieszczat is the Chief Marketing Officer for DELMIAWorks. Steve is responsible for all aspects of DELMIAWorks brand management, demand generation, and product marketing. Prior to DELMIAWorks, He held senior marketing roles at ERP companies IQMS, Epicor, and Activant Solutions. Steve’s focus is on aligning products with industry requirements as well as positioning DELMIAWorks with the strategic direction and requirements of the brand’s manufacturing customers and prospects. Steve holds an engineering degree from the University of Kansas and an MBA from Rockhurst. 


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