Thomas Dietrich: My clear favourite here is the Relief Dual® sectoral off-loading shoe. The classical forefoot off-loading shoe, which allows the forefoot area to float, was established as the standard treatment for many years. But it is now the subject of controversy in the medical profession. The reason is that especially patients with sensitivity disorders develop a wrong gait. They roll right off, tip over the edge of the sole and end up with their toes on the ground. Unless the shoe, like DARCO’s OrthoWedge, has a continuously reinforced sole which lends the forefoot plateau additional support. I consider the Relief Dual® sectoral off-loading shoe which we have developed a very effective “newcomer” in the area of forefoot off-loading. Especially in conjunction with the sole systems I have alluded to. A shoe with a flatter sole lets people walk properly at once. A continuously reinforced sole and a back-shifted ball rocker eventually resulted in the new model of shoe, which today by its evidence has already made itself a good name among the medical profession and orthopaedic engineers and has fortunately also been acknowledged in the catalogue of therapeutic appliances.
Product development at DARCO
Interview with Thomas Dietrich & Regina Felix, Product Developers at DARCO (Europe) GmbH
If you look for our product developers, they are either in the live test of a new product, talking to users, or in their “boffins’ world” between foam, sole profiles and 3D printing.
What does a product developer at DARCO actually do?
Thomas Dietrich: Those of us at Product Development supervise a wide range of projects and are also responsible for Quality Assurance. We listen to the market, compile ideas, plan and lead product implementation. In doing so, we can also both develop and test ideas at the highest level, generating quantifiable results. We can even take risks, because either it is a worthwhile discovery or it remains an idea. During the development process, we work closely with all departments: Sales, marketing, purchasing, human resources and logistics. We also keep a close eye on the medical device market and try to use the latest technological advances to improve products.
What product is particularly close to your heart?
Thomas Dietrich: Here the area of soles should be particularly mentioned. Whenever the key topic is well adapted therapy shoes in postoperative care or ulcerations on the foot, individually adaptable sole systems are very much in demand. In the last few years we have launched some interesting products in this area which are individually adaptable and compatible with the DARCO shoes. Sole systems enable a variable pressure redistribution which speeds up the process of getting patients back onto their feet.
What shoe do you believe holds the greatest promise?
Product Design versus Quality Management is a key point in your work – where is it brought to bear?
Regina Felix: “Form follows function”, as they say. This, of course, especially applies to us as a manufacturer of orthopaedic devices in the medical sector. A good example is our new MECRON Knee 3-part Plus, a 3-part universal knee brace, which is manufactured at our production site in Hainichen near Leipzig. “Made in Germany” enables us to develop prototypes faster and implement ideas through short channels. However, procuring materials that conform to the strict legal requirements and still appeal to the patient is the daily challenge. Our new production site at Hainichen near Leipzig is going to be further expanded in the present year, and I see this as a major chance for advancing product development and design.
3D printers are the talk of the town. How do you employ this technology?
Regina Felix: As an hg DARCO Group member, we have the technical options available on site. Along with computer-based programs, pressure measuring devices and cooperation with biomechanical institutes 3D printing is, of course, a very good instrument for creating prototypes in the development phase and “hatching up” solutions. Talking to colleagues from other areas shows that this device is virtually unbeatable.
How do you come up with ideas for new products?
Thomas Dietrich: There are a broad variety of sources. We observe trends and market developments. We are present at over 40 trade fairs a year and are members of Eurocom (Manufacturers Association for Compression Therapy and Orthopaedic Devices). We also get many of our suggestions from our customers, medical retailers, medical institutions and doctors. Customer visits bring valuable information from the user scene and, of course, we at DARCO also value sharing information with international institutions and associations. It is not unusual either to see me walking along the corridor wearing test products, that is my best input.
How do you decide which ideas to implement and which ones not?
Regina Felix: We, of course, set priorities. “Modularity” is the new keyword we want to stick with for 2019. This was also a main reason for the rapid implementation of the Relief Insert® Walker Lower Leg Foot Orthosis. A two-in-one solution which immediately received a
positive echo. With some projects, of course, cost pressures also take centre stage. Getting time saving and optimum care into alignment is the key issue. A case in point here is the DARCO Posterior Splint which can significantly shorten surgery time. Well, not everything that is shelved is of minor importance. Some other projects have not yet come to fruition, but “patience is well rewarded” – you can look forward to 2019!
Part 1: Product development with Thomas Dietrich