Why On-Demand Manufacturing Works like Amazon Prime for Medtech Companies

Posted On May 7, 2018 By Annie Cashman
amazon prime on tablet
Amazon Prime offers on-demand buying for consumers. Digital manufacturing offers on-demand prototyping and production for companies. Photo Courtesy: Smashingmagazine.com

“Since moving to America, my two favorite discoveries have been Amazon Prime…and Protolabs.”

This comment was from an engineer I met recently, who is on assignment in the United States from Israel. He said this during a customer visit our Protolabs sales team made to his company. It was followed by a huge laugh and feel-good moment for our team. During the flight back from that visit, I thought more about his comment, and it made me think about how and why he connected Protolabs to Amazon Prime.

The parallel the engineer was making points to our world’s growing on-demand economy, the idea of real-time fulfillment of goods and services, whether it’s a business-to-consumer transaction at Amazon Prime, or a business-to-business exchange at companies like Protolabs.

Taken a step further, the concept of on-demand can be especially key when in need of a product or service that you can usually take care of yourself—internally—but, for whatever reasons, aren’t able to at the time. Two examples from my own experience come to mind—diapers for my kid, and medical device prototypes for a company I worked for. Let me explain.

Digital Diaper Run

I’m a big fan of Amazon Prime and I remember why I signed up for it in the first place. It was the winter of 2013, I was a traveling sales rep promoting medical devices for operating rooms. I traveled throughout Minnesota, making sure physicians were educated on the safety and efficacy of our products. I was also a young mom, learning to juggle a work-life balance. On one trip, I got a call from my husband, letting me know we were out of diapers at home. “You went out of town and stocked us out of diapers!” Oops. That’s a bad thing to do to your spouse, who wakes up at 2 a.m. and finds he needs to pack up the baby and run to a 24-hour convenience store to buy diapers. That day I signed up for Amazon Prime. Order was restored to our home.

Outsourcing on Demand

Fast forward a couple of years. I had moved from device sales to device manufacturing. We were working on a project with a tight product development window for a large, medical, original equipment manufacturer (OEM).  We were given six weeks to come up with three different functional prototypes and a roadmap for manufacturability. Six weeks, three prototypes, multiple materials to test. We crammed into a conference room and put up ideas on the wall. The designs were the easy part, we had done enough testing to know what would work. The challenge was finding a prototyping partner that could hit our tight testing timelines before we demonstrated our final three devices to the OEM customer.

We did have our own, internal injection molding and machining capabilities. So, problem solved, right? Not really. Our production customers had tied up all of our internal resources. We were faced with looking outside of our company, on a limited budget, with the probability of waiting three to four weeks or longer for parts.

Someone suggested we try Protolabs, so we did. We were able to get our parts in less than a week and even iterate those parts two additional times before we showed our ideas to the customer. Problem solved, happy ending. And, by the way, since that time as a Protolabs customer, I became a Protolabs employee.

Medical Manufacturing to Accelerate Development

Back to the engineer at my sales visit, and the parallel he made between Amazon Prime and Protolabs. Amazon Prime delivers speed, dependability, and quality to consumers. This concept is the same in medical manufacturing. Product developers and engineers need to deliver on their timelines, and also make sure they are providing the safest and most effective product for their patients. Protolabs’ on-demand manufacturing makes that happen. To learn more about prototyping and low-volume production for medical applications, check out our white paper.

Annie Cashman is the global segment manager for medical sales at Protolabs. Cashman’s industry expertise provides insight for Protolabs and its range of medical customers developing products and devices. She understands the entire process of manufacturing a medical device from its infancy to end use, and is passionate about driving positive outcomes for customers. Cashman previously worked for Nordson Medical, and also has held sales positions at Covidien (now Medtronic) and St. Jude Medical.