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7 Ways You Can Be Sure Your Supplier Is a Good Match
May 8, 2015
6 Min Read
In these days of budgetary cutbacks, establishing mutually beneficial, ongoing relationships with suppliers has never been more crucial to the ongoing success of OEMs. Here are seven supplier traits that indicate you're going to have a good match.
Tara McCutchen, Zeus Inc.
As a medical device manufacturer, you're expected to deliver high-performing, cost-saving devices. However, OEMs are feeling the need--and seeing the benefit--of looking to their suppliers to function as an extension of their R&D divisions. (That includes polymer tubing suppliers such as Zeus.)
Prior to this current round of healthcare-related cutbacks, the vast majority of applied innovation may have previously occurred in-house. Now, a well-vetted and trusted extrusion supplier can become a visionary partner, working with you to cut costs while helping to keep you ahead of the curve with new and improved product designs and applications.
Selecting a supplier takes on new meaning when looked at through the lens of a long-term partnership. But even if your company is only looking for a straight supplier (vs. innovation partner), the specific needs of your business will necessarily influence the criteria by which you judge suppliers. What matters most in your world: reliability, reputation, price, tight tolerances, on-time delivery? More than likely your answer is a resounding, "Yes, all of the above--and then some." But depending on the unique needs of your business, certain qualities will stand out as more necessary than others. When evaluating suppliers, consider the following baseline criteria:
1. Consider Both Price and Value
With research budgets dwindling, price will always factor into the mix, but it's your responsibility to determine at what point a lower price point loses its value. As Warren Buffet pointed out, "Price is what you pay. Value is what you get." There will always be suppliers offering similar goods at a lower price and, sometimes, good enough is all you need. More often, however, it's imperative your sourced products arrive on time and on spec from a vetted and trusted source. Before latching onto the lowest price, consider potential back-end costs such as late delivery, poor customer service, improper material selection, and even outright product failure. How might these "hidden" costs affect your bottom line?
2. Seek to Quantify Reliability
Just as a medical device often requires a delicate combination of components, so too does sourcing those components frequently require a balancing act. Seek suppliers who treat your deadlines as sacred, understanding that delays cost money and put your reputation with your customers at risk. Never underestimate how much reliability plays into cost savings. The price of doing business with an unreliable supplier, whether for product quality or service, can't mitigate a low price on a purchase order. Ideally, your supplier will offer multiple facilities so that even if something goes wrong in one facility, they have the backup resources available to fulfill your order on time.
3. Don't Underestimate Quality Matters
If a surgeon or diagnostic physician is using your medical device during a procedure and it fails, with whom will your customer associate that failure? Your polymer extrusion manufacturer? Unlikely, even if that's where the issue lies. No, as you're well aware, the buck will stop with you. For reasons such as these, the quality of the polymer extrusions or any other products or services you source should be a leading factor in your decision to partner with a supplier. Sub-quality components lead to sub-quality products. Period.
4. Find out If the Supplier Offers a Sample Program
For example, any extrusion manufacturer interested in partnering with you on a long-term basis will offer free samples of their product for prototyping. The companies serious about establishing rapport with you and understanding your business will go a step further and offer technical support, putting you in touch with production engineers and polymer experts throughout your project to help improve yields and throughput.
5. Study Their Track Record
A company that's been in business for a long time is more often a sure bet for quality, consistency, reliability, and customer service than a new startup that's still working out the bugs. Long standing companies also better understand the needs of the market and those they serve, and are able to address concerns ranging from material selection to value-stream optimization for new and existing clients.
6. Evaluate Customer Service Upfront
Too often, no one thinks to evaluate the customer service levels of a company--until something goes wrong. However, even if everything goes right, customer service still comes into play when evaluating suppliers. You want to work with a supplier well trained to answer your questions and anticipate your needs. Ideally, your supplier should be ready and available to meet you anywhere, at any time, to address your project needs and partner with you to develop new products or applications. Forget the help desk. In this day and age, customer service means the complete experience you have with a company from first contact to final product development.
7. Find Out If They Are Leaders or Followers
When it comes down to selecting a partner, do you want to work with the company that invented the technology or one of the many companies that copied it? Here's a good example from Zeus' industry: While polymer components and extrusions are often thought of as commodities, the truth is there are select polymer tubing companies that are in the business of supplying next-generation technologies, such as bioabsorbable stenting or heat shrinkable PEEK products. Choosing to partner with these leading companies places your company ahead of the competition.
Working side-by-side with a supplier means you become more important to them and, in turn, they become more responsive to your needs--especially when you need materials or ideas on short notice. Partnering with a company also means they're able to respond more reflexively to your needs. Eventually, a supplier-partner will understand your needs as well as you do and so can approach you with ideas and solutions that may not be on your radar. This is the magic moment when vendors transform into true partners. It's at this point that the "selling" ends and the "partnering" begins. A partnership of this nature will benefit your company as your supplier can help you evaluate new products and applications, cut costs and improve product designs. They can also save you time and money upfront by pointing you to the right materials from the start.
In short, they become more than a component supplier; they become a trusted and valued member of your R&D team, helping pave the way for your future growth.
Refresh your medical device industry knowledge at MD&M East in New York City, June 9-11, 2015.
Tara McCutchen is medical division manager at Zeus Inc. (Orangeburg, SC).
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