The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the manufacturing and distribution capabilities of healthcare companies like never before as demand surges for certain medical devices.

Three executives – Ambu USA President Steven Block; Jett Chitanand, director of healthcare and medical device segments for Locus Robotics; and Yoon Park, the director of global supply chain for Stryker – joined DeviceTalks Tuesday to discuss how their respective companies weathered the storm.

The webinar, hosted by Tom Salemi, explored how each company handled challenges from the pandemic’s early days. They also discussed where each company finds itself now and looked toward the future as hospitals resume elective surgeries that had been put on hold.

Ambu’s Block described how the company bolstered supply and distribution chains for its single-use bronchoscopes and resuscitators when the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the spring. That became especially critical as clinical guidelines began recommending single-use rather than reusable bronchoscopes on suspected COVID-19 patients due to cross-contamination concerns.

“We took aggressive measures to increase our manufacturing and increase resuscitators and bronchoscopes by 50 percent,” Block said. “We also wanted to do everything we could to guarantee stable supplies during the pandemic, so we switched to air freighting versus shipping by sea and we spent about $5 million on shipping product as soon as possible during the pandemic. None of the additional air freighting expense was passed on to our customers. It was really a humanitarian effort on the part of Ambu to supply the customers.”

Stryker, similarly, saw a continued demand for specific products, especially its coil and stent products. While COVID-19 halted elective procedures, the treatment of unruptured brain aneurysms had to proceed, Park said.

Regions that were especially hard hit by COVID-19 requested massive amounts of supplies from Ambu – every territory was boosting their forecasts, Block added. Some placed orders for six months of inventory.

The same went for hospital beds, according to Stryker’s Park.

“Hospitals were running out of beds, so they were placing orders like crazy,” Park added. “Part of it was pure demand surge, they really needed more beds, but the other part was they weren’t sure if they were going to get it, so they were placing three or four months’ worth of beds.”

In less than a week, Stryker developed a low-cost bed. Within a month, thousands of the innovative new bed had been produced. Now, the company is donating the leftovers, Park said.

Ambu was able to add hundreds of new accounts because of its ability to deliver new products throughout the ongoing pandemic. And while many companies worldwide were forced to cut or furlough employees, Ambu grew.

“We hired and trained hundreds of new employees in the U.S. using digital tools and we were able to launch some new single-use products – the cystoscope and the duodenoscope,” Block said. “It was a crazy time and we’re still trying to get accustomed to this, but we did very well, and we are in much better shape today versus prior to the pandemic starting.”

Chitanand said the adoption curves for med-tech are accelerating, which has Locus Robotics optimistic about the future.

“If there’s one thing that companies have realized from this unfortunate pandemic, it’s the increased use and adoption of technology, and really the importance of technology,” Chitanand said. “The innovative use of technology by in large is what we are seeing across the board.”

Click here to see an on-demand version of the webinar.