Manufacturing in the Heart of Downtown Seattle

By Johnson Wu, LFM '06
Global Supply Chain Program Manager
Cisco, Product Ops
Emerging Technology Group
December 18, 2007


Johnson Wu, LFM 06

Johnson Wu, LFM 06

During the October 2007 LFM Alumni Conference, a group of alums and current LFM students took advantage of a unique opportunity to tour a manufacturing facility of Philips Medical Systems right in the heart of downtown Seattle. Located between Pike Place Market and the Space Needle, it houses Philips' Heartstream division, which manufactures semi-automatic defibrillators-easy-to-use electrical devices that help counteract fibrillation of the heart muscle and restore normal heartbeat by applying a brief electric shock. Hans Griesser, LFM '92, has been working in Philips Heartstream for almost 9 years and is currently a product design project manager for the HeartStart defibrillators.

Defibrillators are used for emergency treatment of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). An SCA differs from a heart attack because it is an electrical problem that causes normal blood circulation to stop suddenly because the heart fails to contract effectively. For U.S. adults over 40, it is the number one cause of death and kills over 300,000 people annually-more than those caused each year by traffic accidents, hand guns, house fires, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and AIDS combined!

These cardiac arrests can happen quite suddenly, and two-thirds of all sudden cardiac arrests occur without prior indication of heart disease. Therapy, an electric shock, must be delivered within 10 minutes. However, because such a quick response is difficult, the national SCA survival rates are only about 6%.

Wider adoption of defibrillators should significantly improve this number. A defibrillator delivers a therapeutic dose of electrical energy to the affected heart by depolarizing a critical mass of the heart muscle, terminating the arrhythmia, and allowing normal sinus rhythm to be re-established by the body's natural pacemaker (similar to pressing the "re-set" button on electronic devices), in the sinoatrial node of the heart. An automatic defibrillator (AED) can recognize a heart in fibrillation and guide the rescuer to safely deliver the electric shock.

Philips Medical Systems' Heartstream division is only 15 years old. Founded by 5 individuals who wanted to tackle the SCA problem, Heartstream went thorough several incarnations, including an acquisition by Hewlett-Packard Medical, a spin-off from Agilent, and finally an acquisition by Philips.

Plant tour at Heartstream

LFM alumni and current students enjoyed a plant tour at Heartstream, hosted by LFM '92 Hans Griesser (5th from left), as part of LFM's 2007 Alumni Conference. Heartstream is a division of Philips Medical Systems and manufactures in downtown Seattle automated external defibrillators (AED)-devices used to treat patients suffering sudden cardiac arrests.

Throughout these changes, Heartstream's vision has remained constant: make an affordable, simple-to-use device that is readily available when an SCA strikes. This vision and the company's values continued and flourished through the acquisitions and spin-offs and enabled the Heartstream manufacturing facility in Seattle to retain its own group identity, camaraderie, and culture. In 2004, Heartstream reached a critical milestone-shipping the first over-the-counter, no-prescription AED to the U.S. market. During the LFM plant visit, one of us successfully "saved Matt" (shown in the picture) using this device without any prior training or coaching.

In its downtown Seattle location, Heartstream has a 200-person, 120,000-square foot manufacturing facility that produces 4 AED product lines. The manufacturing operations involve materials receiving, assembly, testing, and shipping of the products. Although not a large manufacturing site, everything in the factory was very clearly marked, and lean principles have been incorporated into design of manufacturing flow and inventory management.

Although its mother company Philips is a large multi-national company, the Heartstream division has maintained a unique group culture. Hans said he really enjoys the teamwork environment. "We have heated discussions about how to best design an AED, but our end goal is very collectively focused: make the best and safest products we can." The Heartstream promise is to design and make every product as if the life of a loved one depends on it. The team members belong to an intimate group and organize periodic potluck lunches and social gatherings. "It's a very casual environment, and everyone knows each other," said Hans.

Hans also said that one of the most gratifying parts of his job is getting periodic visits from people who have survived sudden cardiac arrests due to Heartstream's AED products. During the plant tour, the LFM alumni observed a real-life voice recording of an SCA patient being revived that included simultaneous viewing of the patient's heart beat before and after a Heartstream AED was applied to the patient. "Being able to bring back a suddenly lost life makes my job very worthwhile," Hans said with a smile.

AED products are now becoming more prevalent in public facilities, such as offices, factories, hospitals, airports, and airliners, and consequently the demand of Heartstream's AED products is rising. Because the manufacturing facility in downtown Seattle could be outstripped by the rising demand, Philips is currently considering re-locating Heartstream. When asked about the potential effects of the possible relocation, Hans responded, "If we relocate, it's going to have an impact on our culture, especially because many of us commute to our facility in downtown Seattle by public transportation, and it will be difficult to travel to the new location without a car. However, through all the spin-offs and acquisitions, Heartstream has survived and flourished, so I expect that Heartstream will continue its mission and be successful no matter what."

What Hans stated above fits perfectly with the theme of the 2007 LFM Alumni Conference: "Managing Variability". Although the business itself can be sold, spun off, or acquired, as long as the focus remains on delivering products that satisfy customer needs, it'll continue to be succeed for many years to come-as Heartstream has already demonstrated over the last 15 years.