What’s better than finding a needle in a haystack? Finding a diverse supplier that designs, innovates and efficiently manufactures surgical suture needles for Ethicon Inc.—a Johnson & Johnson company—and its customers.
Bihler of America is a woman-owned supplier of millions of surgical suture needles for products produced by Ethicon Inc. and sold to Owens & Minor, a major distributor to hospitals. Patients benefit from innovative suture technology used in everything from wound repair to major surgery. Ethicon Inc. has been a leader in surgical sutures for nearly 70 years.
“There are few diverse suppliers that manufacture medical products—and it is very important to have one as a supply chain partner,” Veronica Manuel-Gilbert, Director, Enterprise Supplier Diversity at Johnson & Johnson, said. “Diverse suppliers best reflect our patients and consumers across the world, and help us to better meet the need for products, Devon Ray, Senior Supply Management Analyst, Owens & Minor; Linda Harvey, Buyer, Baltimore, Owens & Minor; Maxine Nordmeyer, CEO, Bihler of America; Angela Wilkes, Director, Supplier Diversity & Sustainability, Owens & Minor; Michael Barone, General Manager, Baltimore, Owens & Minor. services and innovations.” Bihler is one of Johnson & Johnson’s largest diverse medical-component manufacturing suppliers.
Employing 180 people at a 250,000-square-foot plant in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Bihler does more than make surgical suture needles and other products; it also designs and builds the equipment to manufacture those products. This expertise gives Bihler a unique and valuable position as a supplier.
“Contract manufacturing and machine design/systems-building complement each other,” explained Bihler CEO Maxine Nordmeyer. “By running a production facility 24/7, there are lessons learned that we would never experience if we only built systems. By doing both, we incorporate learnings into the next system design. It’s a continuous circle that lets us keep improving products and services for our customers.”
Bihler of America opened in 1976 when Barry Littlewood (Nordmeyer’s father) partnered with Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik of Germany. Bihler’s relationship with Ethicon Inc. began in 1987, building a machine for Ethicon Inc. to manufacture needle blanks. In 1998, Bihler began manufacturing needle blanks and designing other needle-making equipment used at both Bihler and Ethicon Inc. facilities.
In 2007, Bihler presented an innovative bid to significantly reduce needle-making cost. With Ethicon Engineering, it developed a game-changing process that allows product quality and control while maximizing efficiency with longer production runs, less downtime and higher output. The result? Lower production costs.
“Bihler has an open-door policy for Ethicon Inc.,” Nordmeyer said. “We share our technology and procedures for tooling, setups and Bihler of America Brings Supplier Diversity and Innovative Skill to Its Customer Network maintenance. We have made a substantial investment in production process development, and have made the new designs available to Ethicon.” She added, “Over the years, the two organizations have developed solid relationships, working well together and overcoming most challenges.”
Yahne Henry, Medical Devices and Diagnostics Category Manager at Ethicon Inc., said, “These efforts have helped Ethicon successfully launch a number of products and become a leader in surgical suture products worldwide.” She added, “Bihler has an intimate understanding of both the equipment and process used to make a quality product in the most effective way possible. They support Ethicon Inc. in mitigating increasing cost pressures while maintaining quality and innovation.”
In 2011, Bihler manufactured 210 million needles for Ethicon, with production of 223 million estimated for 2012.
Bihler is a first-tier supplier to Johnson & Johnson and secondtier to Owens & Minor. “Customers like Owens & Minor increasingly look to Johnson & Johnson to demonstrate a commitment to diverse supply chains and to support their Tier II goals,” Manuel-Gilbert said.
Angela Wilkes, Director, Supplier Diversity & Sustainability at Owens & Minor, concurred, “We strongly support Tier II suppliers because, in our industry, it provides the same economic development and growth opportunities to women and minorities as Tier I.” She explained, “Our customers— hospitals—are looking for a more regional or local economic development base. When we find small or women- /minorityowned businesses across the country, it has a direct impact on our footprint as a national distributor, and helps to create jobs and improve the economy in those areas.”
“Johnson & Johnson aligns itself with partners such as Owens & Minor that share its commitment to diverse and small-business programs,” said Larry Chiappetta, Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems Corporate Account Director. “I’ve seen firsthand how both companies strive to build relationships like that with Bihler, to better serve customers and communities.”
Bihler gives back to the community throughout the year, supporting the Center for Educational Advancement, the Raritan Valley Community College Foundation, the Make-a- Wish Foundation® and numerous other small groups.
The partnership with Ethicon has created other production opportunities for Bihler in the medical device industry. Its sister company in the UK, JEB Engineering Design, provides the same engineering capabilities as Bihler of America, working with Ethicon’s Gynecare line in Europe.
“Supplier diversity is a crucial way for us to drive economic inclusion and growth in the communities in which we live and work,” Manuel-Gilbert said. “We are very pleased to have a global partner that can help us innovate—and is able to grow with us.”