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Sunday, 28 April 2013 22:00

Manufacturer finds niche in disposable medical devices

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As the health care industry focuses in on disease prevention, care providers are turning to disposable medical devices to help reduce the spread of infections.

That shift is providing a key opportunity for a West Michigan manufacturer that’s been serving the medical device industry and others for decades.

SSI Electronics Inc. has been making membrane switches since 1983 in Belmont, just north of Grand Rapids.

“We’re probably the smallest membrane switch maker in our industry,” said Scott Miller, vice president at SSI.

SSI Electronics has remained true to its core products, which are built for the demanding medical and scientific device sectors, Miller said. The manufacturer makes low-volume to medium-volume products that go on expensive medical equipment. Other devices made for clients include non-invasive products, such as nerve stimulation patches and a home monitor that tests for epilepsy. A patch from the monitor attaches to the patient’s forehead and then is slung over his shoulder to be worn around his waist. Other epilepsy devices implant electrodes directly into the brain.

Miller and CEO Dan Anderson, two long-time employees, bought the company when its founder retired a decade ago. SSI Electronics employs 50 people and does about $5 million in annual sales.

“Critical care area is our expertise,” Miller said. “We have 50 to 100 small companies for which we make a specialty product. Stryker uses our products purchased through a business partner.”

For more than 25 years, SSI Electronics has been an industry leader in designing and manufacturing custom products for its customers. Those mainstream products include membrane switches, silicon rubber keypads, flex circuits and keyboard assemblies.

Membrane switches, the company’s top-selling product, are what are found on most microwave ovens. SSI Electronics has helped its customers launch more than 1,000 projects integrating membrane switch technology, Anderson said.

The manufacturer also offers conductive rubber keypads, which can be supplied alone or can be designed to interface with a membrane switch or another circuit technology. A third product line is flex circuits, a flexible platform to attach electronic components.

The company is seeing strong demand for various disposable medical devices it produces, Anderson said. SSI Electronics makes a disposable heart-monitoring system for Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based LifeSync Corp. The product, called LeadWear 2.0 Disposable ECG (electrocardiography), features clean disposable leads that help reduce infection risk.

LifeSync is SSI Electronics’ no. 1 client generating about $1 million in annual sales, said CEO Anderson. But the client also represents the new way SSI Electronics is doing business.

“The unique thing about that account is most medical device manufacturers buy components, or have some in-house capabilities, or procure customer components, or market and sell products,” Anderson said. “In this case, we assemble them. We ship them directly to the UPS distribution center and from there to the hospital without our customer ever inspecting the finished product.”

Anderson said SSI Electronics is able to pull off this turnkey service because the company has knowledge of medical regulations as well as the customer’s expectations.

The company’s capabilities have aligned well with health care industry trends pushing for the use of more disposable medical devices as a means to prevent the spread of disease and infection. According to a November 2012 report from research firm Global Information Inc., the global demand for disposable medical devices is expected to climb 6.4 percent annually to nearly $200 billion in 2016, as emerging economies adopt best practices in health care. Fast-growing disposable product categories include patient room supplies, surgical instruments, infusion and hypodermic devices, diagnostic and laboratory disposables, nonwoven garments and textiles, and respiratory supplies and devices.

“Advances in disposable medical supplies are contributing significant improvements to the safety and outcomes of patient procedures,” the report stated.

SSI Electronics’ second-largest account, generating some $500,000 in annual sales, is with Advanced Instrument Development Inc. of Downers Grove, Ill. SSI Electronics makes an ionization chamber for medical X-ray machines under contract to AID, a customer since the late 1990s.

“They’ve developed more than 100 different parts for us, some in large volumes, others five pieces at a time,” said Bruce Packard, vice president of operations at AID. “They know when we need something quickly and get things done ahead of their normal lead times.”

Packard said SSI Electronics also has helped his company find less expensive ways of developing products, as well as quickly spotted any product development issues.

“When anything deviates from the norm, they give us a call, send us samples and ask if it will cause a problem,” he said.

Don Beery, executive director of the West Michigan Medical Device Consortium, said he believes SSI Electronics is the only membrane keyboard maker in West Michigan. Beery also said he thinks the flexible circuit disposable ECG product has potential to be a big revenue generator for the company.

“Disposable devices are nice for manufacturers because the hospital has to continuously buy more,” Beery said. “That type of business can be a very good business for any company.”

Mike Brennan is senior technology writer for MiBiz. His day job is editor and publisher of MITechNews.com.

 

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