Engineering Resins | 3 MINUTE READ

Diversified Plastics and Nonin Medical Meet the Challenge of Rapid Demand for Noni's Oximeters Brought on by Coronovirus

Demand has sharply risen for Nonin’s Onyx fingertip pulse oximeters as they have the capability to help diagnose and monitor silent hypoxia in COVID-19 patients. 


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We were recently contacted by custom molder of a broad range of plastics Diversified Plastics of Minneapolis, Minn., regarding their more than a year collaboration with Nonin Medical, Plymouth Minn., to produce components of the latter’s Onyx fingertip pulse oximeters and other potential products. In recent months this has led to their mutual partnership in the fight against COVID-19.

Silent hypoxia, a condition in which oxygen levels in the tissue have dropped, but the individual has no signs that something is wrong is one of the early warning symptoms of COVID-19.

A pulse oximeter, or pulse ox, identifies patients with silent hypoxia, alerting physicians early that treatment may be indicated. Early treatment can keep COVID-19 patients off ventilators—and alive. Common and as simple to use as a thermometer, a pulse oximeter is an electronic device that measures pulse rate and the saturation level of oxygen carried in red blood cells.

Onyx fingertip oximeters are small and lightweight. Clipped to a finger or toe, the device is used in hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, emergency medical services and home health settings. The first fingertip pulse oximeter on the market, Onyx has a durable hard plastic case designed to withstand vibration, shock, bumps and drops. Manufactured in black, blue and red, it has plastic channels that hold the batteries securely in place. Onyx fingertip oximeters, Nonin products are sold in 125 countries.

DPI was one of three plastic-injection molding companies that Nonin considered when they needed to find a new supplier. Prior to starting the review process, Nonin’s team developed a vendor selection matrix. Key considerations included a robust quality control system and comprehensive validation process as well as a convenient location for easy collaboration. Each candidate company was asked to respond to a formal request for proposal and to provide a tour of their facilities. DPI came out on top, according to Nonin project manager Kristin Finberg.

“When we started the review process, we couldn’t have imagined that demand for the product would increase as much as it has. This sales growth was a result of the product’s ability to help diagnose and monitor silent hypoxia in COVID-19 patients, and of our effective marketing strategy. The team at DPI was able to quickly assess the surge in volume and develop a plan, including additional tooling, to increase capacity. DPI has done an amazing job meeting our needs for increased production, and DPI was in the right place at the right time. Everything is going well.”

After many years of use, the tools used to make the plastic-injection mold components for the Onyx fingertip pulse oximeters needed to be replaced. Moreover, Nonin wanted to make a few design changes  to integrate into the product. Alex Cromett, DPI’s engineering manager, along with Aliza Alverson, sales engineer for DPI, developed an action plan and schedule for Nonin. To ensure good communication and a smooth process, the technical teams from both companies held weekly status meetings.

While Nonin had the product design completed, they relied on DPI’s experienced team for tool design that would deliver maximum manufacturability and consistent, high-quality components. As part of its continuous improvement process, Nonin wanted to raise the bar for validation of the new tool. DPI delivered with an advanced validation protocol. Before the molds were made the teams reviewed the tool design. Once the tool was complete, prototypes were developed, and the first article inspection was successfully completed.

DPI is manufacturing everything that is plastic on the Onyx fingertip pulse oximeters, including the exterior or enclosure and the soft touch material that holds the finger. Some of the parts being manufactured require complex overmolding of different materials, which is one of DPI’s proficiencies. DPI sources told Plastics Technology that PC and PBT are used to make all of the durable, colored housing, and TPE is the soft overmolded material where a person’s finger sits.  

DPI also manages direct sourcing of lens components with one of Nonin’s other vendors. Additionally, the manufacturer is sourcing product decorating and completing some of the assembly. Once completed, the parts go back to Nonin to add the electronics, finish the assembly, and packaging. A second wave of COVID-19 is anticipated in late fall or early winter. As a result, demand will continue globally for Nonin’s pulse oximeters. To maximize capacity, DPI is investing in additional presses.

Nonin’s marketing strategy regarding COVID-19, called All Together Now, is focused on serving the healthcare industry through education, recognition and thought leadership. Press coverage at NPR, in the Star Tribune, New York Times, CBS Morning Show, Kare11 and others, generated as part of the campaign, contributed to the company’s recent success.