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Medical devices firm achieves rapid growth and demand by coping with COVID‑19

Faced with unprecedented demand due to the pandemic, Southmedic, a medical devices company, calmly followed the simple mantra that has fueled its success for more than 30 years: find a better way.

Meeting rapid increases in demand

“Due to COVID‑19, we’ve seen exponential increases in demand for our line of PPE—personal protective equipment— along with respiratory masks and intubation products,” says Ken Noseworthy, Southmedic’s senior vice‑president of sales and chief technology officer. “For example, we sold 40 times more face shields in 2020 than we did the year before.”

Based in Barrie, Ontario, the company manufactures and sells proprietary medical products in more than 70 countries. Southmedic also distributes specialized surgical products to hospitals across Canada, and provides regulatory and quality‑control support to other companies.

Southmedic’s manufacturing division has experienced significant increases in demand, with foreign markets accounting for approximately one‑fifth of this growth. Coping with such rapid growth, particularly when a pandemic affects both supply chains and the availability of workers, can be challenging. Yet Southmedic managed to increase production capacity, hire more staff and step‑up research and development.

Ken Noseworthy
Ken Noseworthy, Southmedic’s senior vice‑president of sales and chief technology officer

“We started 2020 with fewer than 500 employees,” says Noseworthy. “By November, we had more than 800 and expect to reach 850 by early 2021. I think the fact that we’re well established in Barrie and are recognized as one of Canada’s best‑managed companies helps us attract and retain employees.”

To ramp up production, the company expanded its facilities and added a new 1,000 square‑metre cleanroom to one of its three buildings. Southmedic also relocated a long‑time tenant and renovated the space to accommodate manufacturing and inventory needs.

Agility is key in rapidly evolving industries

A determination to find a better way inspired Lee McDonald to establish the company in 1983. At the time, McDonald was an ICU (intensive care unit) nurse who envisioned a safer and more efficient way to anaesthetize patients. She designed and produced a successful prototype, and called it Anaeslock. Within two years, Southmedic had secured customers in 20 countries. Since then, the company has continually innovated and expanded into new markets. In 2015, it established warehouses in the United States and Europe.

“The Trade Commissioner Service has been a big help throughout our history,” says Noseworthy. “We regularly attend trade shows such as Medica in Germany and Arab Health in Dubai, where trade commissioners facilitate introductions to potential customers and distributors. In advance of my travels to markets in South America and Asia, they also helped us with tips on local business cultures and even vetted some potential business partners.”

Southmedic has a strong track record for innovative manufacturing techniques. For many years, the company served as Canadian distributor for an American scalpel manufacturer. When the manufacturer decided to stop production, Southmedic acquired the rights to the technology, and designed custom machinery to automate the manufacturing process, including the application of a proprietary polymer coating that reduces drag. Today, Southmedic’s scalpels and blades are the products of choice for thousands of surgeons worldwide.

The Government of Canada recently selected the company’s new molded swab for use in testing for COVID‑19 and other diseases. Should the clinical‑validation studies currently underway succeed, Southmedic plans to ramp up production to at least 400,000 swabs a month.

“The TCS will no doubt help us identify potential markets with an urgent need for test swabs,” says Noseworthy.

Southmedic recognizes that the best way to secure its future is to remain focussed on innovation and international markets.

“Adaptation is our new mantra,” says Noseworthy. “Agility has been the key to our success and will continue to serve us in the rapidly changing healthcare industry. Southmedic will continue to invest in developing solutions to whatever new challenges arise around the world.”

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