Freudenberg - Innovating Together

Focus on R&D

Interview with Lars Gerding, VP Technology at Freudenberg Medical

How has Freudenberg Medical approached the R&D process in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic?

At Freudenberg Medical the R&D and product development approach has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic – primarily in two ways.

First, the collaboration within our global R&D team became closer and thus improved. Since face-to-face meetings were no longer an option, we quickly adopted digital tools for collaboration. Reaching out to a colleague on Microsoft Teams – even if you haven't met in person – has become much more natural even across countries and time zones. This is a huge benefit for multinational companies like Freudenberg Medical.

Secondly, we have shifted our R&D resources to products that were urgently needed to fight the pandemic. We have made great progress especially in the fields of in-vitro diagnostics and pharma applications by focusing our innovate strength in these areas.

What are the most challenging barriers to R&D and how can they be resolved?

One of the biggest challenges is having the resources and manpower needed to tackle the variety of research topics and questions at hand to which one wants to find the best possible answer. You always have to weigh where to focus your resources and balance them accordingly.

This goes hand in hand with another important factor - the long-term retention of our workforce, which is definitely a challenge for contract medical device manufacturers, as people tend to move to the larger OEMs.

In what specific areas are OEM companies investing their R&D dollars?

Two major trends we are pursuing are digitalization in terms of electrification and miniaturization. In the field of cardiology, neurovascular or electrophysiology, we already have a large footprint and look back on many successful projects with our customers. In addition, we are ensuring that our range of products and services continues to grow. Our experience is that our customers want to work with us because we can meet their needs in many different application areas.

How is Freudenberg Medical tailoring their R&D strategy to meet changing industry needs?

Our R&D strategy is an important part of our overall strategic planning process, which we carry out every three years. In doing so, we take into account where we currently stand, what the industry trends are, and where we see opportunities for growth. And we are committed to expanding our portfolio even further to meet the needs of customers who prefer to work with a single reliable partner for all their development projects.

What factors are driving companies to outsource R&D?  And what is keeping OEMs from outsourcing R&D?

In my opinion, they do not outsource R&D, but are looking for additional resources for their product development. More specifically, they are looking for supplementary resources to add to their own development teams or complementary resources to get access to skills and technology they don’t have in-house.

That way, OEMs can focus on their core competencies, like treating a specific lesion. When you outsource parts of the product development, you can get the product to market faster because you don't have to start from scratch. You just have to ask the right people the right questions - which is exactly what our customers do when they involve us in their R&D process. 

What keeps OEMs from outsourcing R&D could be their need to protect their core know-how. We sometimes experience that OEMs tend to switch back and forth between in- and outsourcing, depending on their internal open capacities - which is not exactly conducive to joint projects.

Collaborative research has become essential in recent years. How can OEMs ensure they find the best collaborative partners?

The quality of interaction between internal and customer R&D teams is a good indicator. At Freudenberg Medical we offer our customers on-site offices for their engineers, so information flow and collaboration become more natural. This approach has proven very successful in the past. However, the prerequisite is that the scope of the project is clearly defined. It takes discipline not to deviate from the original plan. Because if cooperation is “too good” and you keep exploring more and more facets, you might jeopardize the entire project. It's just in our nature - as engineers, we want to understand all aspects in detail.

What benefits arise from global innovation centers?

At Freudenberg Medical, there are nine Centers of Excellence for the following areas:

  • Extrusion & Complex Shaft Assembly
  • Hypotubes & Metal Engineered Needles
  • Proprietary Technology & Handles
  • Medical Balloons
  • Automation & Robotics
  • Coating & Surface Treatment
  • Silicone Molding & Overmolding
  • Thermoplastic Molding
  • Silicone Molding & Extrusion

Our customers benefit from a global network, profound experience from various projects, and diverse teams.

How do startups’ R&D approach differ from larger firms? What can OEMs, or more established companies learn from the startups’ approach?

Working with start-ups is very important to us. Supporting them in realizing their ideas and vision creates value for both sides - thinking specifically of design for manufacturability or technical expertise in general.

Agility and quicker “iteration turn around” is of special importance when working with start-ups. By using new digital tools and 3D printing for thermoplastic and metal parts we have entered a new product development era. As CDMO, we embraced these new challenges and support them to reach a new level in their achievements.
Even if we start a small volume project with a start-up, excellent ideas can quickly lead to large scale production if they are acquired by a large OEM.