From Publisher to Lifesaver: Laerdal Medical’s Journey to Global Medical Equipment Supplier

Laerdal has the survival instinct

Emerging from the concerns of pioneering founder Åsmund S. Laerdal into the widespread knowledge of resuscitation techniques, Laerdal Medical AS has become a global supplier of medical equipment and technology.

Initially a publishing house, the business moved into the creation of PVC-based toys for children, before a chance instance changed Åsmund’s ethos forever. His son, and current chairman of the board, Tore nearly died from drowning at the age of two, which brought to Åsmund’s attention the many deaths that occur through a lack of knowledge of resuscitative techniques. Applying his knowledge of PVC materials, Åsmund set out to create a realistic range of mannequins that would encourage trainees to learn CPR and other processes more effectively. Nowadays, the business has expanded globally into a range of market areas, creating life support, airway management, defibrillation, and micro-simulation training technology.

Niklas Edling, vice president of supply chain and manufacturing, and Stavanger plant manager Berge Solheim explain the scope of Laerdal’s modern operations: “The company operates on a global basis, and from a manufacturing perspective, we have four factories: in Norway, Texas, Mexico, and China. Three of these are final assembly plants, and the Mexican factory is solely a component manufacturer. At our Norway facility, both component manufacturing and final assembly takes place,” Niklas states.

“The organisation is present on a global scale within the market, and we work with many different types of clients. It all depends on the region in regards to demand, but we have standing links with the Red Cross, and AHA in America, as well as working extensively with military organisations across the world. We are also witnessing a large demand for simulation technology in the nursing profession, most notably in the USA.

“The company does plan to expand its facilities, and has recently signed a new contract for a larger building in Mexico,” Berge continues. “In our ventures in South America and the Far East we are experiencing the most growth, and we are trying to focus the US and Norwegian facilities on maintaining and strengthening this global competitive advantage through technical competence.”

This expansion has required the business to focus on the efficiency of its processes, as Berge outlines: “Across all our global sites, Laerdal manufactures a wide range of products and we only build orders that have been sold. We try to utilise different efficiency techniques, like TPM and lean principles, and we have extensively developed our assembly processes.

“We operate with a two-week lead-time on all our assembly plans, and we work under strict key performance indicators (KPI) regarding service standards, allowing us to measure our ability to deliver on time,” Niklas adds. “This is one of the main tools used to ensure efficiency within our processes. Some of our products have a low annual volume, so making high quality products with a low production ratio has become our speciality. This obviously has an effect on the way that the factory is organised. We work a lot on continuous improvement, and we have programmes running that are linked to this: one is called Assembly Excellence, and the other is Low-Series Moulding Excellence. We are focusing on applying lean techniques and principles – a world-class methodology – in order to improve operational excellence. This incorporates three factors of measurement: quality, service, and cost.”

Efficiency also spreads to managing the supply chain within the business, as Niklas explains: “Laerdal sources its main materials from global suppliers, but there is always the trade-off between sourcing front running technology at the best price, while at the same time trying to remain efficient in terms of logistics. We obviously try and source products as close to one of our plants as possible, so there are always factors to be considered. Laerdal has a global sourcing department that deals with the trade-off between price, location, and efficiency. When it comes to distribution, one of our main solutions is to outsource this process to regional partners, including the warehousing operations.”

The company now manufactures products in two main areas, as Berge elaborates: “In Norway, we manufacture basic mannequins for CPR training, extending all the way through this market area to highly advanced simulators, and in the future Stavanger will focus mainly on the high-end products.

“In the therapy section of our business, we manufacture suction units, which are distributed and sold all over the world, and this is now the third model we have made since we started producing suction units. We manufacture three different sizes of silicon resuscitation bags. Laerdal also makes CPR sensor pads that utilise and improve the quality of the process by communicating and transferring signals to the Heart starter, and letting the rescuer know what effect the procedure is having on the patient.”

Niklas comments on the outlook of Laerdal’s range of products: “Research and development is understandably very important to Laerdal, and we put a lot of resources into this area. We are running two major development projects at the moment, which we aim to launch in 2008. We are focusing on two technological areas currently: simulation equipment, and quality CPR, and complementing this is our extensive training and simulation programs that we run all over the world. I think we have found a lot of success in the areas in which we operate, and the simulation market is growing rapidly at the moment. Laerdal is well positioned in this segment, as we have good products and relationships with customers, as well as a comprehensive understanding of the market.”

In regards to the future, progress is very much at the heart of Laerdal’s plans, as Niklas comments: “I think it is important to note that in the future we are looking to invest in technology, world-class methodology, and operational competence over the next three years. The emphasis will be on the continuous improvement of both the assembly and moulding excellence programmes. We are working on balanced transfers, which smooth and aid the shift between facilities, and the growth in areas like Mexico and China.”

“Laerdal is known for the development of very good products, and we always aim at bringing value to customers. This is a factor we aim at maintaining and improving in the future,” Berge concludes.