Issue 130 July 2016
World-leading rehabilitation provider Blatchford has used its clinical expertise in prosthetics, orthotics, special seating and wheelchairs to deliver innovative and advanced artificial limbs that work in sync with the human body
Since its foundation in 1890, Blatchford (originally Chas. A. Blatchford & Sons Ltd) has developed a global reputation as a pioneer in the provision of lower-limb prosthetics and orthotic products. Responding to the needs of young amputees returning from World War II with a prosthetic knee that allowed for stabilised weight bearing and flexion when walking, the company became an industry leader in prosthetic innovation.
Over the years, Blatchford has continued to develop increasingly sophisticated prosthetics and remains committed to creating the future of mobility with the utilisation of microprocessor-controlled technology that ensure the smoothest possible gait pattern. This dedication has resulted in the company winning the Queen’s Award for Technology Achievement three times, the Prince of Wales Award for Innovation and a Millennium Products Award.
In June 2016 the company continued this trend by winning the prestigious MacRobert award, which is regarded as the leading prize to recognise innovation in UK engineering, by the Royal Academy of Engineering for Linx, the world’s first fully integrated lower limb system. Representing ground-breaking technology within the prosthetics industry, Linx continuously shares information between the knee and foot to automatically adapt to changing terrain and circumstances, which then allows for more freedom, confidence and stability for the user.
“Linx is unique as it has a number of sensors in both the knee and ankle that communicate with one another. This is completely different to previous prosthetic limbs where the knee and ankle would both work in isolation; we now take the sensor readings of both, which is translated back to the user to ensure a more controlled manner of operation,” explains Mark Hemmings, Supply Chain Manager at Blatchford.
“Linx is connected electronically, so it senses what the knee and ankle are doing, and the stresses and loads they are under at any point in time, so the knee and ankle can communicate to provide the best information for each other. This enables the user to walk more efficiently and naturally,” adds Ian Keeley, Manufacturing Engineering Manager at Blatchford.
“Linx was in the pipeline for around four years, as it took a long time to get the knee and ankle to communicate effectively. Following a great deal of R&D activity we have created an integrated limb that can’t be found anywhere else in the marketplace. The fact a small company in Basingstoke has managed to go from an idea to a successful product launch and subsequent sales is a great success for us,” highlights Chief Operating Officer Paul Hutton.
A provider of clinical services to the NHS and military in the UK, and to private patients both in the UK and internationally, the UK headquartered Blatchford invests in its Research & Development department to maintain its leading position for innovation in the market. As a result of this, the company has a range of award-winning products within its portfolio, including the Elan foot, for which it was awarded the Smart Product Award by the Engineering Employers’ Federation (EEF).
An electronically controlled foot and ankle system that senses speed and terrain and responds instantly to ensure the amputee can take on an active lifestyle with confidence on anything from traversing ramps, stairs or flat ground, the Elan foot also gives a boost when the user walks at faster speeds.
Another notable product is the company’s Silcare Breathe Liners, which feature laser drilled perforations along the length and distal end to allow moisture to escape, which leads to drier skin and a healthier environment for the residual limb. “We developed this patented product from scratch and are starting to get a bit of traction in the market as the Silcare Breather Liners enable highly active people such as tri-athletes to complete a half marathon with no problem at all. It’s a massive improvement as heat and sweat management is a big issue for our customers,” says Paul.
Alongside the investment in R&D, Ian notes that the company has also invested in its facilities: “We have just installed a new CNC lathe, which replaced some older equipment; another will be added in approximately three Blatchfordmonths. The reason behind this investment is to improve efficiency, as we previously had CNC machines down for hours or even days and we are now down to minutes between switching from one to another. This predictability enables us to add security to processes and improve them to reduce lead times. In fact, throughout the company we are enhancing processes to reduce lead times and reduce components, which mean we will hold less inventory and save money. If we know we can effectively produce the components we don’t have to hold a large safety stock; this is a big focus for us, to improve processes and give a better supply of components into assembly.”
Indeed, since joining Blatchford 12 months ago as Chief Operating Officer, Paul Hutton’s core focus has been on complementing the company’s impressive product portfolio with an exceptional level of customer service. “When I came onboard a strategy was in place to improve Blatchford’s customer focus,” he says. “For example, delivery times within 48 hours was previously at a low percentage but is now at 85 per cent plus. Moreover, the first-time pass rate for components was low but is now at 91 per cent of all the units we are making. Supply performance was also poor 12 months ago, with only 60 per cent of orders from suppliers delivered on time, now they are at 95 per cent.
“We haven’t brought in any new employees to reach these results and haven’t changed the structure; instead I developed key performance indicators that are monitored week-in, week-out. From these we have seen steady improvements right the way across the board.”
These improvements have led to strong results for the company, with sales in 2016 already beating those from 2015, a trend that Paul is keen to improve further over the coming years. “We want to continue to deliver for our customers and improve customer-facing activities within the company, whether its order fulfillment or turnaround times on repairs. It is about challenging the current ways of working even further to become more productive and efficient while also developing the next generation of new products for our customers,” he concludes.
Products: Prosthetics, orthotics, special seating and wheelchairs