As I plan a trip back to the Midwest, I'm preparing questions for a medtech giant that grew up beside me, Stryker, and I welcome your questions, too.
I grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich., oblivious to the fact that one of the world's medical electronics giants was growing up just down the road. Now that I'm returning for 10 days on family business I hope to get acquainted with Stryker Corp. and learn a little bit about this international conglomerate.
I'll start with some history. Stryker's story is not unlike other medtech giants such as Medtronic. It started with a doctor/inventor, Dr. Homer Stryker (1894-1980), who designed in a basement shop of the local hospital beds that could help turn his orthopedic surgery patients.
The invention became a product that spawned a company that inspired more inventions – a cast walking heel, a surgical traction device and a cast cutter -- and Stryker's Orthopedic Frame Company was off and running.
In the 70s and 80s, the company expanded its geographic and technological reach, opening new offices and acquiring new companies at a steady pace. Today it's a $9 billion global conglomerate that participates in more than a dozen different medtech markets.
Several questions come up as I review the company's 2013 annual report. One big one is what's the future for manufacturing in medtech?
Stryker still has its single largest manufacturing operation here in Kalamazoo, but after a major acquisition last year it has nearly as much factory space in China. Half of its total capacity is distributed broadly across more than a dozen midsized plants peppered across the US and Europe.
I suspect this distributed model will remain. But I'm sure Stryker feels the same forces driving Apple and so many others to send its manufacturing to China.
Separately, I wonder what are the common R&D issues across the company's many divisions. The era of the doctor/inventor tinkering in the basement lab of the local hospital is clearly over. I'd love some insights on how a large modern and highly distributed company fuels innovation and collaboration.
Another big issue is the expected impact of Obamacare and its controversial 2.3% excise tax on devices. That's probably the most high profile of a set of evolving global regulations in an increasingly cost-conscious health care climate.
Technically, I want to understand the company's semiconductor needs as well as any big emerging issues and best-practices in software development. I'd also like to hear its views on the emerging home health care and health and fitness markets that are converging health care and consumer electronics.
Of course, I also welcome reader questions for Stryker as I plan my trip back to Kalamazoo where we both grew up.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times