Understanding SMS Material Supply Challenges
Why Are There SMS Material Supply Problems?
Simple…high demand & raw material shortages
As the medical industry has advanced there have been a number of innovative new materials introduced to replace traditional, reusable materials like cloth, metal, and glass. When it comes to products like Surgical Drapes, Gowns, Masks, and other Disposables, the challenge was to develop material that was flexible, durable, and that would offer protection from blood and other bodily fluids during operations.
The solution was SMS or Spunbond Meltblown Spunbond non-woven material. Instead of using cloth or other traditional woven fabrics, SMS material uses layers of various forms of the thermoplastic polymer polypropylene. By using non-woven plastic instead of conventional fabric, SMS Gowns, Masks, and Drapes are high strength, provide an excellent barrier for medical staff during procedures, and effectively filter out certain particles, particularly important for Surgical Masks, Drapes, and Gowns.
SMS products have become so widely used that the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically increased its demand. The sheer volume of increased mask production and meltblown raw materials created supply chain problems across the globe. The lingering impact is increased raw material costs for manufacturers and inability to meet current demands.
How is SMS material used?
Medical nonwovens, or SMS, is the most commonly used material for Disposable Surgical Drapes and Gowns. In addition to outstanding barrier and filtration properties, strength, and flexibility, the primary benefit of using SMS disposable medical products is that they are designed for a single use. By properly using and discarding disposable surgical products, medical facilities can reduce the chances of cross contamination and disease transmission.
These characteristics mean that nonwoven material and SMS fabrics are used in a wide variety of healthcare products, including:
- Disposable Gowns, Face Masks, Boot and Shoe Covers, Beard Covers, Caps, and Scrubs
- Single Use Surgical Drapes and Table Covers
- Lab Coats and Isolation Gowns
- Disposable Bed Linens
- And much more
SMS supply problems
Due to the fact that SMS material is used for such a wide range of healthcare and PPE products, the COVID-19 pandemic greatly increased demand for the nonwoven fabric. Through last year and into this year, nonwoven manufacturers throughout the world shifted capacity and made large investments in machinery to produce more high demand hospital and PPE products made of SMS. Face Masks in particular have experienced rapid explosion in demand, as more and more of the general public wore them in everyday life.
This surge in demand raised concerns that there would be shortages in critical nonwoven materials and the medical products they're used to create. Last year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development pointed out that:
- There are bottlenecks in the Face Mask supply chain, most notably with nonwoven fabrics manufactured with polypropylene
- There were and continue to be export restrictions on products like Face Masks in many countries that cause distribution bottlenecks
- Domestic transport and distribution disruptions have led to further bottlenecks in the supply chain
- Current demand is 10 times higher than world production capacity
Nonwoven material supply chains and COVID-19
The typical distributor will maintain a 30 to 90 day supply of their medical products to continue serving their customers, even if a supply chain is temporarily disrupted. COVID-19, however, strained the traditional supply chains for SMS material products as distribution networks were disrupted by the virus and demand surged.
One of the difficulties of supplying disposable medical products like Face Masks, Gowns, and Surgical Drapes is that many of these products are manufactured in far away countries like China. These long supply chains are more vulnerable to disruptions, because the products must travel long distances, and different parts of the world may be affected differently by global events like the COVID-19 pandemic.
By importing around 85% of surgical masks and relying on nonwoven material manufacturers around the globe, US medical suppliers and facilities are largely dependent on events and actions occurring across the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that these long supply chains can become vulnerable right when we need them most.
SMS supplies are rebounding but at higher prices
Welmed, as with our competitors, are paying higher prices to our factories for the same SMS products than we did pre-COVID. Unfortunately, some of these costs have grown over 50%, and this sharp increase is impacting the industry's pricing. The Welmed Team is working tirelessly to address the SMS supply and pricing problems in an effort to provide hospitals and other facilities the products they need to serve their patients.