Mungo Smith: Trip to Draeger Medical’s HQ in Lubeck, Germany

In February 2006 Dräger Medical UK Limited hosted a visit for invited members of Architects for Health to their HQ in Lubeck, Germany, otherwise famous for marzipan. A delegation comprising Carole Crane (HLM), Claudia Bloom (Avanti), Mungo Smith (MAAP) and Richard Mazuch (Nightingales) were met and accompanied by George Black and Angela Driver (both Dräger UK) from Stansted airport to our destination for a nightcap and initial briefing.

The following day, despite the tightly arranged schedule, some of us took an early breakfast and a sprint around the old city centre before our first appointment and induction which took place at the Dräger Forum, a modern extension of the original factory in Lubeck which is still in use primarily for R&D and administrative functions. We were first taken through a fascinating history of the company by Heiko Schaffrath from its foundation in 1889 producing pressure reducing valves for carbon dioxide in the production of beer to its more famous role as a world leader in the design and manufacture of integrated medical systems and safety technology.

The fascinating timeline exhibition is complemented by an extensive display of full-size 3D mock-ups including settings for Ambulance, A+E, Operating Theatre, Critical Care and Acute Care through to Care at Home equipment. There is a separate Neo-natal room, which was of particular interest to Richard, who has been doing research in this area.

Strangely, the Rock of Truth was my most memorable experience of this tour. Its significance will be understood if and when you visit the factory but it is based on the concept of trust which underpins the company’s ethos and its reputation in providing medical and safety systems. Following Q&A and coffee we were transferred to Travemunde, where Dräger have developed their Core Component Centre design studio and production factory. There we were met by Torsten Faass and Stefan Bremer who made presentations on ‘Peri-operative Care’ and ‘Planning Support’ respectively.

We enjoyed an excellent lunch at a nearby fish restaurant overlooking the port and returned for presentations by David Biddell on Critical Care and Perinatal Care which stimulated so much discussion and detailed questions that the rest of the itinerary, including a tour of the factory, fell by the wayside. Heiko reappeared to wrap up the meeting and we were whisked to the airport for a late flight home.

My impressions of the trip as a whole can be summarised in the following way:

Dräger are a class act, with a very sophisticated system of hardware with a matrix of more than 300 components derived from its base kit of parts. Their products are well designed, aesthetically co-ordinated and functionally robust. This is supported by software packages that interface excellently with IT and management systems. For instance, their very compact monitor docking system allows monitors to move with patients as they are transferred from one situation to another without the need for adjustment. The flexibility and interplay between components is impressive and it was a treat to have the opportunity to discuss these systems thoroughly. By the end of the session there was animated debate about how their products could be adapted for new applications

One of the biggest discussion points on our trip was the way in which architects could work with companies that have so much knowledge to give at the beginning of a project, particularly where innovation and new thinking about medical processes is required. Sadly it can be difficult to engage with companies like Dräger at the outset of a project if they are not already established in a potential private partner’s supply chain or consortium. With the tendency of clients to insist on specification and tendering late on in projects it makes this mode of working almost untenable. We all agreed that working together from the conception of a project with a company like Dräger would make our lives easier and deliver better solutions to end users. How to do this within the various procurement and commissioning arrangements is a question yet to be resolved satisfactorily.

I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. It was intellectually stimulating, an opportunity to get together with “the competition” on neutral ground and share ideas. Architects for Health have been very fortunate to have Dräger as a sponsor. With their track record in designing healthcare equipment and their appetite for innovation the relationship is a good fit. The potential benefits are significant with access to excellent technical knowledge built on over 100 years of research and development. Thank you to Dräger for a well organised itinerary and friendly and good-humoured hospitality. We would thoroughly recommend the visit to their base in Lubeck, which is easily accessible by Ryanair via Stansted to Hamburg Lubeck.

Mungo Smith – maap architects

Sponsored by Draeger Medical – 14 and 15 February 2006

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