K2M, now a part of Stryker, is a medical device innovator and manufacturer that works closely with surgeons to design spinal implants and surgical instrumentation.
Industry: Spinal medical devices
Location: Headquartered in Virginia, with offices in the UK and Germany
Company Size: 500 Employees
Critical Business Issues: K2M’s prototyping process was too long and costly. They faced pressure from customers to get designs to market faster.
The Solution: K2M partnered with Vaupell to create product prototypes from their spinal technology designs.
The Outcome: Together, they reduced the prototyping phase of time-to-market from eight weeks to just a few days. K2M is in the business of innovation. Surgeons and patients depend on their products to make spinal surgery safer, effective, and more efficient. “Speed to market is very important for products in the medical device space,” says Alex Artaki, senior development engineer at K2M. “The industry is changing so rapidly that five year-old products are obsolete.”
As a result, every additional week K2M spends on the development cycle can potentially hurt their bottom line and slow their customers’ ability to implement the latest technology
More Than Great Parts
Beyond industry expertise and quick turnaround time, there are several more key benefits to the collaboration between K2M and Vaupell, which include their responsiveness and overall quality of parts.
Vaupell’s responsiveness and email support are contributing factors, as well. “Requests for quote are returned in less than 24 hours,” says Artaki. By comparison, some manufacturers use slower quoting processes that can dramatically delay production time.
Quality of the Parts
The quality of Vaupell’s parts is top-notch, as well — striking a perfect balance between speed and quality. With almost a decade of experience producing metal parts, Vaupell is both reliable and knowledgeable. “Vaupell’s parts serve our end goal of validating designs in our surgeons’ hands,” says Artaki.
While Vaupell’s technology does cost slightly more than conventional machining, the time savings provide the most staggering return on investment for K2M. “Fitting three rounds of design feedback into the space of one clearly allows us to reach the goal line faster.” In addition, this speed keeps K2M from falling behind their competitors in a fast-paced industry. “All the companies we compete with are using similar technologies, so this allows us to remain competitive.”
A COLLABORATIVE PROCESS
“We develop our products using design teams composed of hands-on surgeons,” Artaki explains. “To best utilize their feedback and maintain their interest in our projects, we invite them to cadaver labs to test prototypes about every three months.” Because K2M’s customers are eager to use the latest technology, projects often have very aggressive timelines. Fast, rough prototyping is essential — but conventional prototype shops tend to take eight weeks to create an initial design for testing.
A NEED FOR SPEED
K2M approached Vaupell to see if they could help supply prototypes for surgical tools and guides. As a company that likes to push the limits on complex, otherwise impossible parts, K2M needed a reliable manufacturer with extensive experience in DMLS, or direct metal laser sintering.
From the start, Vaupell was quick to deliver. K2M would submit a design, Vaupell would immediately generate a quote, and the prototype part would be delivered within days. Robert White, Business Development Engineer at Vaupell, explains, “We work with each customer to understand the critical details of their projects. Then, we recommend the best possible services, processes, and materials to ensure their success.”
And success was the result. K2M had gone from having to wait months to complete a design to being able to iterate a new design every week. “This speed is instrumental to the ‘fail early, fail often’ mentality that fuels our aggressive product design timelines,” says Artaki.
AN ONGOING PARTNER
Vaupell has continued to serve K2M and their customers on a variety of designs over the years. “We learned from a recent surgeon cadaver lab that one of the retraction blades on our instrument was improperly shaped,” says Artaki. These surgeons and other key opinion leaders would be visiting the K2M office intermittently over the following months for different meetings and projects, so it was essential that they solved the blade issue within that time frame.
“To react quickly to their input and get the feedback we needed, we had to iterate quickly.” Artaki describes the process: the K2M team took a day to design the new prototype, sent the 3D file to Vaupell, and had a quote from them within 24 hours.
“They would be able to deliver the part within three days. We continue to show this instrument iteration to surgeons who visit our facility and gain feedback that would have been impossible if we were stuck with an 8 week lead time.”
THREE YEARS STRONG
It’s now been three years since K2M and Vaupell started working together. Vaupell has since become an integral part of K2M’s design process, providing added value to K2M’s solutions by helping them deliver faster spinal prototypes for testing.
The relationship has been beneficial for both parties. White shares, “we have definitely helped them out, but they have also helped transform Vaupell into a highly experienced DMLS supplier.”
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