Finnish hospital equipment maker Merivaara has gone through many changes in its 110-year history. But the company’s current focus on using design and digital tools to improve operating theatres could be its most transformative yet.
Markku Aherto, CEO of Merivaara, has some distinct furniture in his office: metallic, red leather clad barber chairs from the 1920s which remind him of the company’s long history. Founded back in 1901 as a steel furniture maker, Merivaara has since grown into a truly international operation.
“We have subsidiaries in Norway and Sweden and resellers in 120 countries,” Aherto states. “We have more and more people abroad: in Brazil, Florida, Nairobi, Russia and the UK. We want to be where our customers are.”
At the heart of this expansion is constant product development. Merivaara hasn’t been afraid to experiment with minimalistic, functional designs for both industrial and private use, and this approach is embodied in its new ‘Q-Flow’ operating theatre light.
Not only is Q-Flow highly colour accurate, so surgeons can see exact tones as they operate, but it also automatically eliminates shadows as the surgeon moves. And yet what sets the Q-Flow apart from rivals is its unusual doughnut-like shape.
“This is where Q-Flow is more advanced than any other light in the world,” Aherto explains. “The standard, large UFO-like operating theatre lights create a vacuum on the top and bacteria is spread around the room uncontrollably.”
By contrast the spaces left between the concentric rings in the Q-Flow design allow air to flow through, so it can be extracted by the theatre’s air filtration system and keep bacteria out of the operating area.
This innovation has not been lost on design enthusiasts. Since Q-Flow’s launch in early 2017 the light has been awarded the Fennia Design Prize in Finland and an international Red Dot design award.
The digital leap
But Q-Flow is not just a clever light, it is a ‘smart light’ connecting with Merivaara’s first software product: an integrated operating theatre management system called OpenOR.
Launched in 2012, OpenOR can manage patient lists, retrieve endoscopic and x-ray images, control air conditioning, operating theatre beds and lights and even stream music and real-time video to the hospital auditorium.
This combination of hardware and software innovation is Merivaara’s key differentiator in a market which is highly competitive. The company exports around 85 per cent of its products, half of which is basic hospital furniture and half specialised operating theatre products.
Aherto says creating visibility for a medium-sized company (Merivaara has 120 staff) with a modest marketing budget is not easy, particularly when up against big global players. This is where field work and focus on product development comes into play.
“Finland has a great reputation for product development globally,” he says. “Especially as we increasingly move into software products, there’s a lot of expertise and talented people here.”
Planning for the next century
Q-Flow is part of Merivaara’s latest R&D venture, Inoroom. This is a cutting-edge operating theatre developed to improve efficiency and safety made a collaboration with Finnish indoor-air specialist Halton and clean room maker Hermetel. Inoroom covers OpenOR, operating theatre equipment, air control, hermetically sealed modular walls and a service agreement.
So far Inoroom has only been launched in Finland, but Aherto believes it represents the future of the company:
“We are increasingly looking at the software, system and concept side of the business,” he says. “Our growth comes from projects where we work with partners to deliver large concepts. We are now building the base for success in the market for another 100 years.”
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