Dave Kroll, the founder and principal of Kroll Associates, works out of his office in western Massachusetts, which, according to him, proves there is life in design and product development beyond Worcester and the Greater Boston area.
In fact, Kroll sees his distance from Boston as an advantage, since he can also tap New York, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire and beyond for new work.
He has clients in and around Boston, sure — one of his biggest is in Waltham — but his ties to New England universities, contractors and manufacturers, and his persistence in maintaining a presence with clients, either virtually or through office visits, keeps him on top of the industry.
MassDevice spoke with Kroll about his entry into the field and how his arsenal of resources and innovative style keeps him afloat in the sometimes turbulent medical devices market.
MassDevice: How did you get your start in the medical devices sphere?
David Kroll: My experience with medical device design began in the mid-’80s, working as an intern/entry-level industrial designer at Instrumentation Laboratory in Lexington, Mass. I was fortunate to work with a talented team headed by Steve Guerrera.
We worked on many blood chemistry systems that, back then, were among the latest advancements in automated handling and blood testing. Our focus was to integrate comprehensive industrial design with the systems, including ergonomics, user interface and marketable enclosure assemblies for a highly competitive industry.
Over the ’90s I developed a small industrial design consulting group that included clients in the medical, telecom, and consumer product industries. I also sub-contracted for larger design firms engaged in medical device development and continued that on occasion, until a few years back. I continue today with a mix of clients that include medical device manufacturers.
MassDevice: How do you set yourself apart from other design shops?
DK: Kroll Associates is primarily an industrial design firm that offers a full range of innovation and product development services, from early concepts through final manufacturing. We can engage in a product development program in most areas, including human factors research, fluidics, mechanical/electrical engineering, software and regulatory guidance.
We maintain ties with compliant contract manufacturers and specialized consultants in the field.
Projects have included digital fluoroscopes, 3D diagnostic imaging devices, augmentative communication devices and dental laboratory equipment. Some projects included focused brainstorm sessions to conceptualize new devices, material applications and novel approaches for device design.
I’m sure Kroll Associates has its own style of innovation and we may not be that different from the many competent, creative design firms in the industry. Having many medical device resources that include seasoned consultants and a scalable staff with passion for each project could be perceived as a high-value resource in the industry.
MassDevice: What’s on the horizon for Kroll?
DK: We are always targeting continued business in the industry,
potentially in 3D CT scan imaging, veterinary fluoroscopy and laboratory diagnostic equipment.
MassDevice:What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in leading a company?
DK: Have a clearly defined set of project specifications and a scope of work that itemizes all tasks needed to complete the project. This allows a proper team to be assembled and responsibilities to be tracked. I learned this from various mentors and professionals I have collaborated with over the years.
MassDevice:What strategies and tactics have you adopted to deal with the economic downturn, and what’s your forecast for short- and long-term prospects?
DK: Kroll Associates has stepped up its marketing efforts, networking and overhead savings plans to operate as cost-effectively as possible. Our prospects are supplemented by in-house product designs on spec and we are hoping to leverage our long-term relationships with vendors, associate consultants and marketing folks in the field.
MassDevice: What long-term effects will the recession have on your business?
DK: Some of our past clients are no longer in business, others are reducing R&D spending for the present. Long-term planning will be to keep operating costs under control and diversify our client base — that may include targeting projects in emerging industries such as green products, specialty catalog, consumer products and proprietary designs and IP.
MassDevice: We’re in a period of great flux in the medical industry. What do you think the medical device business will look like in 20 years?
DK: Obviously the advancements in this field will be amazing. If the economy stabilizes and capital flows properly to R&D and entities involved in it, I envision a slew of breakthrough devices that utilize the advances taking shape today, such as stem cell therapies, ultra-high-resolution imaging and non-invasive therapy, automated/robotic surgical assistance, bio-engineering, reconstructive equipment and novel drug delivery systems.
The business hopefully will focus on improved, user-centric devices for both patient and doctor and secure personal medical profiles that can be utilized in device applications.
MassDevice: What changes have you seen in the industry over the years?
DK: Information exchange, software and user interface improvements and many of the obvious electro-mechanical and embedded systems utilizing a wide range of capabilities. Also the industrial design of many of the devices is approaching the best man-machine interface yet.
MassDevice: What’s the biggest challenge confronting the devices industry, and how should it respond?
DK: Safety and finding cost-effective development programs. The industry needs more cross-pollination of experts and best integrity development programs too. Enterprise zoning for device manufacturing in Mass. should continue, develop and be incentivized.
MassDevice: Where do you see the next innovation coming from in this industry?
DK: It could come from smaller, focused design groups like Kroll Associates or from medical technicians who work with the devices on a
daily basis, those thinking of the next evolution, or easier-to-use, more
resolute versions of the product. Also, the practice of “biomimicry”
[observing designs of nature] will yield startling innovation.
MassDevice: When you’re building a team today, what areas do you put the most energy into, R&D, regulatory, sales and marketing, operations?
DK: Properly delivering the R&D efforts and striving to deliver above and beyond the expectations of the client. Becoming a true team player in the process and establishing a long-term relationship are also important. We should focus on keeping current with developments in the field and maintaining a strong professional network, too.