World-leading medtech companies, such as Medtronic and Freedom Innovation, are turning to Louth-based Bellurgan Precision for the manufacture of intricate high-performing components for their products.
Last November, the company was recognised by Medtronic with one of just 12 global Supplier Excellence Awards, presented at a special ceremony in Minneapolis. It has achieved either number one supplier or gold partner status with all of its other customers in the sector.
CEO, Stephen Hogg attributes this success to what he describes as a 40-year journey for the company. “Over the past 40 years, we have developed deep engineering knowledge,” he says. “We first got into capital goods that fit around the body about 20 years ago. These are components for ventilators, blood analysers, testing devices, and so on. We make critical components for devices that are vital for sustaining life.”
The next stage in the journey came about four years ago. “We started talking to US prosthetics manufacturer Freedom Innovation, a subsidiary of Ottobock, the world’s largest prosthetics company. This brought us into the area of components that attach to the body. We started supplying parts for an ankle joint and have gone from there to two knees and more recently a second ankle product.”
Far more than a parts supplier
The relationship with Freedom Innovation goes far beyond that of simply being a parts supplier. “Most of our work with that company is of an R&D nature, where we work with them on the design and development of the parts,” Hogg points out. “We manufacture microprocessor-controlled artificial body parts for them and that company has said we are their number one supplier.”
These parts are also highly complex. “I always thought prosthetics were about disability or traumatic injury, but they are actually more to do with lifestyle issues such as obesity and diabetes. People lose limbs for a variety of reasons, and modern prosthetics are high-performance additions to the body that allow you to resume normal life. There are specific prosthetics to suit athletes, active people, and older persons who are just looking for stability.”
The most recent step on the journey has seen Bellurgan move into the manufacture of parts that go into the body. These include titanium spinal screws which are pantone reference coloured to allow surgeons to easily select for size. “One customer in America has told us that our screws are the best quality and show the highest performance in tests.”
That journey has been mirrored by the company’s progress as a business. “In the early days we focused on Lean to take costs out,” Hogg explains. “But that only takes you so far. After that, we began to make careful selections around the equipment to make the parts our customers required. That was accompanied by investment in constant upskilling of the team here. We have a passion to reduce costs for customers at the same time as their products become more and more complex. That has allowed us to hold our margins and reinvest in the business. In particular, it has enabled constant reinvestment in new equipment and skills.”
That capability is key to the company’s success. “We work with our customers on R&D. We evaluate their needs and work together on the drawings as the product goes through various iterations. Quite often we make parts that our customers thought couldn’t be made. You have to be open to innovation and new ideas. That comes from experience and know-how. We don’t simply supply parts off the shelf. We build deep relationships with our medtech customers. It can take 18 months to three years to build up to volume production, but that’s a worthwhile process. Our customers appreciate the fact that we are prepared to go the extra mile for them.”