B. Braun CEO Speaks About Life-Saving Advances Amid COVID and Other Medical Device Trends at NMIH forum
By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on May 7, 2021
In the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, when personal protection equipment was in short supply, B Braun’s plant in Lehigh Valley produced a new infusion therapy product that protected the lives of health care workers.
The new extension set allowed the pumps that manage life-saving fluids to COVID patients to be placed outside the patients’ rooms. Health care workers could tend to the pumps in the hallways, limiting direct contact with the patients.
“This is a product we developed within a few weeks here in the Lehigh Valley,” said Jean-Claude Dubacher, CEO and Chairman of B. Braun Medical. “Seeing the difference that we made and how we helped New York, the West Coast, and everywhere we had a hot-spots was an amazing and humbling experience.”
Dubacher told the story during the National Museum of Industrial History’s monthly “Meet the Manufacturer” virtual lecture series which first aired April 30 on the museum’s social media channels. The premier sponsor was Lehigh Valley Industrial Park, and the series sponsor was Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC). LVEDC CEO and President Don Cunningham, who also interviewed Dubacher last fall in a CEO interview series, moderated the forum..
Dubacher, who has more than 15 years of experience in the health care industry, joined the Germany-based company in 2019 as President of B. Braun Medical and became CEO last year. He has a law degree from the University of Zurich in Switzerland and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Among the largest medical device manufacturers in the world, B. Braun employs 64,000 people. The company has a diversified portfolio of products. It includes smart infusion therapy, IV bags, solution, catheters and pumps. Its pharmacy product business features generic drugs, antibiotics and compounding. The company also makes surgical implants, dialysis machines and other specialty products.
Braun landed in Lehigh Valley in 1979 when it bought Burron Medical Products, a specialty plastics manufacturer that began in 1957. Burron transitioned to B. Braun name in the 1990s. B. Braun employs 2,000 people in the region. It has a headquarters, manufacturing facilities and subsidiary headquarters in Lehigh Valley.
Here is a sample of the questions Dubacher fielded during the 40-minute program:
How much of B. Braun’s manufacturing is automated and manual?
There are products like kits where we put different pieces together, which is manually done, but then when you think about generic drugs that we manufacture, that’s mostly fully automated.
…The vast majority [of equipment] is customized because you want to make sure, especially in our field where quality and safety are so important, that the equipment really delivers. We have proprietary products which need to meet certain standards, and you won’t get that without customization.
What are some institutional changes B. Braun made to promote innovation?
Years ago, we made decision to co-locate R&D at big manufacturing sites, and we did so with plastics in the Lehigh Valley. This collaboration has really helped just to be much more agile than we were before, and it made a big difference last year.
What is B. Braun’s biggest challenge?
Finding skilled labor … we need to develop people. We need to teach them. The apprenticeship programs we started are going to help because only with skilled labor can we actually be successful.
Tell us more about the apprenticeship program.
Germany has a long history of developing people in the combination of having school and then on-the- job learning. We started that here as well in Allentown working with partner schools here as well on the high school side but also the university side. It’s had a big impact. I think now as soon as we get out of the pandemic, a sort of normal again, this will be a big focus going forward.
What advice would you give your twin daughters?
It’s all about learning, about being curious, about trying to find out what is next, and having that drive, and all the rest will come. Skills will be developed with a that attitude. I would give that advice to anybody out there.
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