In a sector where the margin for error is minimal, adopting the latest equipment often offers the best guarantee against inaccuracy and inconsistency in medical devices. Director of marketing at Saline Lectronics Davina McDonnell discusses the recent technological acquisitions made in the name of improved efficiency, quality control and transparency.
In the medical devices sector where the iterations between technological advancements are constantly shortening, keeping pace with competitors presents a significant challenge. When producing medical equipment, upgrading the assembly line to improve efficiency and flexibility is essential but knowing what capital to invest in and when to do so requires careful consideration.
"I think we're lucky being a privately held company with a board of investors who are always reinvesting in the company," says Davina McDonnell, director of marketing at Saline Lectronics, an electronic manufacturing services provider. "If we see a need for additional equipment in another area, we typically move forward with it. We're always making sure we can support the latest technology, while maintaining capacity and efficiency."
It's a tenet Saline Lectronics, which specialises in circuit board assembly, has upheld over the past year, making significant investments into its infrastructure. Its new Cogiscan track, trace and control (TTC) system grants its customers' complete traceability of their product throughout the board's assembly. It offers real-time data of work-in-progress, verification of quality processes and production flow. It even stores a thorough history of device construction, in case of a recall.
"It covers the entire life-cycle of a product throughout the manufacturing process all the way to the reference designator. With ISO 13485, you only need traceability up to the job level, but the TTC system goes above and beyond." says McDonnell. "We also offer work-in-progress reports - data that will tell them exactly where their boards are during assembly. It's specifically designed for customers who need to enhance traceability and want that extra little bit of quality control over the contract manufacturing process, which is normally the case with medical and aerospace clients."
Traceability is not the only area Saline has endeavoured to improve; in the face of exponential year-on-year growth and rising order volume, it has sought to increase efficiency and flexibility by revamping its assembly line. With two new Juki machines now integrated into its surface-mount technology (SMT) line it can now handle greater throughput at a higher rate.
"Buying these machines means we'll be further enhancing two of our three high-speed lines. Essentially, we're going to have two super-fast lines that will in theory allow us to place 140,000 parts an hour," says McDonnell. "The name of the game in contract manufacturing is flexibility - the capacity to react to customer demands and service their spikes when they need it. This advanced machinery cuts down man-hours, which will decrease labour costs and increase efficiency, so overall the customer will get a better product, faster."
The machines employ smart technology and come with an in-built alert system which will check for human errors. If a reel is loaded either incorrectly or in the wrong place, it refuses to run and the operator is automatically notified. With the margin for error in the medical sector at an absolute minimum, it could prove an especially attractive proposition.
The acquisition of the new Juki machines and Cogiscan TTC system epitomises Saline's successful year of customer growth and capital investment, and it has now turned its attention to other innovations for increasing efficiency and making the contract manufacturing process more customer friendly.
"We currently partner with many of our customers to finish a PCB assembly to the pack-out level," says McDonnell. "We finalize many electro-mechanical box builds and ship directly to the end user. This is enormously beneficial to our medical customers as they no longer have to work with so many suppliers to get one product finished. They let us do all of the heavy lifting and logistics within their supply chain."
Making the contract manufacturing process more convenient will certainly resonate with medical device manufacturers, and contribute to more activity in this area for Saline. If, as expected, the ongoing surge in demand for its services continues then it will need to maintain its commitment to investing in technology upgrades and finding new ways to work faster and smarter.