Wednesday 13 December 2017

Making a difference the world

Elaine Furlong

NEW ROSS was still suffering the ill-effects of the 1970s recession when an American businessman visited the Barrowside town in the early nineties looking for a base to serve his company's growing European market.

Having witnessed how the town was struggling with very little employment or major industry, the late Joseph Joe Fleischhacker Senior felt New Ross would really embrace the opportuinity provided by Lake Region Medical locating there.

The family-run company was established in New Ross in 1994 with just 15 employees. A remarkable success story has unfolded since. Now Lake Region is the largest employer in Co. Wexford with some 800 people from all over the South East working there.

Located just off the busy N25, Lake Region Medical's New Ross base is passed by thousands of people every day – yet few probably realise the tangible effect their products have on people's lives worldwide.

Lake Region is the world's largest guidewire manufacturer so chances are someone you know has benefitted greatly from their products.

Each week over 600,000 wires are shipped across the globe from this bustling New Ross plant.

Lake Region Medical are industry experts in developing and marketing medical devices to meet unique clinical challenges for stimulation therapy, cardiovascular, neurovascular, peripheral vascular and vascular access applications.

Their products play a critical role in replacing conventional surgery with minimally invasive procedures that substantially reduce patient suffering, hospital length-of-stay and recovery time.

Founded in 1947, the company has evolved from a manufacturer of pacing lead coils and precision machined products into a global leader and partner in the design, development and manufacture of minimally invasive medical devices.

Lake Region Medical has four facilities, employing more than 1,600 employees worldwide, dedicated to medical device manufacturing.

The company's roots go back to the end of the Second World War in America, where the engineering talent of Joe Fleischhacker Sr. and his two partners was turned into a business endeavour.

With an initial investment of $400, they began a part-time venture in 1947 which focused on manufacturing fishing lures and tackles.

In the early 1950s, the business shifted to making water softening and treating equipment in a renovated chicken coop behind the Fleischhacker family home in Minnetonka. By the late 1950s, Lake Region operated as a part-time contract machine shop.

In 1960, Joe Sr. was introduced to Medtronic, a backyard business working to develop a Heart Pacemaker. Working in his off-hours and with the assistance of Mrs. Fleischhacker, Joe Sr. developed a mechanism to manufacture small diameter coils.

By the 1970s, Lake Region increased its focus on products for the medical device industry. All four Fleischhacker children worked at Lake Region and the company continued to flourish.

In February of 1994, Lake Region opened an additional facility in New Ross. Originally, this facility was setup with 15 employees to better serve the European market but has grown to serve Lake Region's Global customer base.

Within the space of a few years – particularly when Lake Region Medical started on its journey to become a world class manufacturing facility – the company base in New Ross grew dramatically.

In 2004, LRM expanded its plant operations to 125,000 square feet and 700 employees – a figure which has since grown to 800 employees.

Lake Region's capabilities continued to expand and in 2008, the company was rebranded as Lake Region Medical to better encompass the full range of services offered.

The company opened a sales office in Shanghai, China, in 2006 and acquired Brivant Medical in Galway in 2009, where their international research and development centre is based employing a further 100 people.

The plant in New Ross is unrecognisable to what it was ten years ago when the company were making 40,000 guide wires weekly. Today LRM in New Ross is one of the world's largest guidewire manufacturing sites and each week ships over 600,000 devices around the globe.

'This is a remarkable achievement and one that would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of every single employee,' said Noel Hennessy, Continuous Improvement Director.

It is reckoned that the 800 strong workforce is made up of at least 15 different nationalities, with employees travelling from all over Co. Wexford as well as Waterford, Kilkenny, Carlow and as far as Co. Tipperary to work in New Ross every day.

While the majority of employees are product builders there are specialist teams in areas such as process and design engineering, quality and regulatory control, environmental, health and safety, HR and training, sales and marketing, equipment and facility control, equipment and facility maintenance and continuous improvement.

According to Noel, all employees receive intensive training in both the manufacture and clinical use of the guidewires.

There are huge possibilities for career growth within Lake Region Medical, with employees who display potential and drive offered opportunities to increase their skill base. Opportunities are afforded to employees to further their education, with several having completed Degree and Master level programmes.

'Everything is treated as an opportunity here,' said Nicola Murphy, Lean Manufacturing Engineer. 'There is great potential for growth within the company,' she added.

The New Ross base prides itself on its friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Respect, teamwork, continuous improvement, integrity and leadership are not just what are valued but are what the company strives to achieve every day.

'We definitely have a very committed and engaged workforce,' said Noel. 'Everyone who is working here wants to give their very best'.

'There is always a great buzz about the place,' added Nicola. 'There is great camaraderie and a friendly atmosphere'.

Such a pleasant working environment is created through a mix of different team building, fundraising and novel events such as their annual fashion show, jersey days, Operation Transformation events, raffles and novel draws for a coveted day off work or a handy parking spot in their vast car park.

Touring through the New Ross factory the hard work, energy and enthusiasm of the employees is obvious. Their work directly impacts people's lives and some are all too well-aware of this as the products they are instrumental in manufacturing have been used in cardiac surgeries on their family and friends.

It is Lake Region's drive for continuous improvement and its dedicated workforce that are credited with the company being the first in Ireland and the first Medical Device manufacturer in Europe to be awarded a global standard in Operational Excellence – the prestigious Shingo Accreditation Bronze Medallion.

The Shingo is described as the Nobel Prize of manufacturing and recognises operational excellence.

'Receiving the Shingo Bronze Medallion and becoming the first medical device manufacturer in Europe to achieve Shingo accreditation is a major milestone along our continuous improvement journey which first began in 2003,' explained Noel.

'Our products make a difference in the lives of millions of people throughout the world every year. Achieving international recognition at Shingo Bronze Medallion status is validation that we are meeting our corporate goal to: Implement World Class Systems and processes for the design, manufacture and supply of minimally invasive guidewires,' said John Harris Vice President OUS Operations

Lake Region Medical now plans to apply for recertification in 2015 with the hope of clinching the top Shingo award.

From its origins manufacturing fishing tackles to now leading the way in the manufacture of life-saving minimally invasive delivery and retrieval systems, Lake Region has had a rich history stretching back over the past 60 years.

Today, Lake Region remains a family-owned company with three of the Fleischhacker family members still active in the business and over 1,600 employees dedicated to reducing patient suffering.

The company has a strategy in place to continue to grow the business in New Ross over the coming years, according to Noel.

'As far as the New Ross site is concerned it's about maintaining our reputation for producing high quality products at the most competitive price so we are in the best possible position to avail of any business opportunities that arise,' he explained.

Looking to the future their strategy will be to continue to have a steady rather than a spectacular growth in New Ross.

Enniscorthy Guardian

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