A Tradition of Innovation

History is full of prodigious inventors. Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod—and perhaps not so famously, bifocals and a flexible urinary catheter. Among his many creations, Thomas Edison developed long-lasting incandescent light bulbs as well as the fluoroscope.

Today, medical device OEMs such as Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic are continuing the tradition of innovation by creating life-saving and -enhancing technologies.

Helping to fuel OEMs’ creativity is a rather new niche in the outsourcing arena—the outside development of prototypes. “About 10 years ago, the outsourcing of prototyping started to become popular due to OEMs wanting to maximize the technology, innovation and expertise that outside suppliers could provide,” explained Jason Howey, vice president of OKAY Industries in New Britain, CT.

After all, an OEM may create prototypes for perhaps a handful of innovations over the course of a year, whereas outside suppliers craft prototypes daily—and thus gain much more familiarity and know-how with possible solutions to a wide range of design and manufacturing challenges.

Outsourcing the prototyping process also can save money and resources. “It’s very expensive for OEMs to develop prototyping capabilities in house because the equipment isn’t used continuously throughout the year, so the initial capital outlay and high, ongoing overhead can be difficult to recoup,” noted Les Duman, sales manager for Peridot Corp. in Pleasanton, CA.

In addition, Duman pointed out, in-house systems rarely can offer redundant machining capabilities, so delays will occur. Further, most OEMs don’t have a craftsman or machinist on-site to fashion parts, so industrial engineers and designers must spend time physically creating prototypes, detracting from the time they could devote to their core competency: creating new innovations.

And today’s innovations are increasingly sophisticated. “Our customers want complex instruments—a product that has a lot of electronics or softwarerelated parts,” said Bruce Sargeant, founder and chief technology officer for Source Scientific, LLC, a BIT Group company in Irvine, CA. “In the United States, we are seeing more smaller instruments that have cosmetically complex styling and industrial design. [This trend is occurring due to] corporate branding, marketability and usability. But there is also more call for these stylized designs because it is now possible to offer more choices quickly and cost effectively.”

Unlike years ago, Sargeant explained, today changes to design can be made directly on the computer file—with no hand-making of parts required. This type of rapid prototyping has drastically cut development time.

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A Tradition of Innovation – By outsourcing their prototyping needs, OEMs can focus on what they do best: inventing new solutions.

Stacey L. Bell, Editor at Large, Medical Product Outsourcing – July/August 2008