EXPERT SOLUTIONS Shared values help Olympus stay ahead of the competition
The name Olympus Corporation is synonymous with endoscopes. The Tokyo-based company enjoys nearly 70% of the market share, and that figure is poised to grow in the future. What is the company’s key to success? Akihiro Taguchi, business management officer of Medical Business at Olympus Corporation, discusses the company’s strategies for growth.
Akihiro Taguchi is categorical – sacrificing quality to cut costs or accelerate delivery time is simply out of the question. “If the device isn’t good enough to treat your own loved ones, you shouldn’t produce or sell it,” Taguchi, business management officer of the company’s Medical Business division, tells new employees of Olympus Corporation.
This focus on quality has helped the Tokyo-based company to dominate the global endoscope market. Olympus Corporation’s Medical Business division designs, manufactures and markets endoscopes – and their associated devices – that are used to look inside the human body.
Endoscopes are a vital tool that enables doctors to find lesions at an early stage and treat a patient with a minimally invasive approach. This lessens the economic and psychological burden on patients and helps ease their return to normal life. At the macroeconomic level, given that per capita public expenditure on medical expenses is rising steadily around the world, the cost reduction of early diagnosis and minimally invasive treatment is decisive.
An endoscope is a device consisting of a tube a few millimeters in diameter that is inserted into the body and used to observe and treat a lesion, but improving its design does not simply mean reducing the diameter of the tube. For doctors, ease of handling the device is as important as thinness of the insertion portion, as they both define the maneuverability (for doctors) and contribute to reducing patient discomfort.
Olympus has developed several ways to collect and incorporate the views of medical professionals into its product designs. One way is to interview medical professionals directly to understand their challenges and their ideas for solving them. Sometimes an engineer in the company’s development division comes up with an idea or technology on their own. They then take the idea to medical professionals who can confirm whether it would work.
This was the case for Narrow Band Imaging (NBI) technology developed by Olympus. It is difficult to clearly differentiate lesions and normal tissue on an image with white light. NBI technology alternates blue light, readily absorbed by hemoglobin in capillaries close to the surface of the mucosa, and green light, easily absorbed by the hemoglobin in the blood vessels further from the surface.
“IF THE DEVICE ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH TO TREAT YOUR OWN LOVED ONES, YOU SHOULDN’T PRODUCE OR SELL IT.”BUSINESS MANAGEMENT OFFICER, MEDICAL BUSINESS, OLYMPUS CORPORATION
When the light is passed through a special filter, the blood vessels closer to the surface can be distinguished from deep blood vessels by the different colors. This makes it easier to find the characteristic increase in capillaries caused by diseases such as cancer. “If you find the lesions caused by cancers and other diseases early on, abdominal open surgery can sometimes be avoided,” Taguchi said.
Olympus Corporation’s dominance in the marketplace also comes from the training support it provides, teaching medical professionals how to use an endoscope, plus its comprehensive repair and maintenance network. If an endoscope stops working properly, the treatment stops. To avoid treatment interruptions, Olympus has developed a global repair network that offers product replacement and speedy repairs. Olympus trains its own staff and representative agents to offer repair services, bringing the company’s total number of servicing centers worldwide to more than 200.
“Especially in emerging countries, rather than just deploying the product, you need to think about training and repair services or the market won’t expand,” Taguchi said. “Endoscopes are delicate instruments that are used on a daily basis, and if they’re not used and stored correctly, they may break down; but [from the hospital’s perspective] they are almost standard facilities. If the products break down, they must be repaired rapidly to protect the life of the patient. Accordingly, for the manufacturer, it’s not a case of supplying the product and that’s the end of business. The service infrastructure that supports repair and maintenance is Olympus’ real strength.”
Every profit-driven business must balance quality with cost and time to market. Product Lifecycle Management, with its focus on supporting products from the original concept stage to the end of their service life, permits companies like Olympus to introduce new products into the market while maintaining those already in existence. Even after the development stage, regulatory review in some regions requires two to three more years before a product can be sold, and it may need to be supported for 20 years or more.
Therefore, Taguchi emphasizes the importance of quality and after-sales service to all of the company’s employees. “Don’t market any product,” he tells them, “unless you’d be willing to see it used on the person closest to you if she or he needed treatment.Back to top