Modo Inc. makes the kind of medical equipment that typically just fades into the background of health care: intravenous poles, trays and carts.
But by incorporating design into product development, the company said it is making life easier for patients and caregivers, and winning itself more business.
Consider a basic patient monitoring cart, Modo CEO and President Bob Marchant said at the Industrial Designers Society of America's annual conference in Portland.
By replacing a wire-mesh bin for holding supplies nurses take from room to room with an injection molded one, the company created something that is more easily sanitized, decreasing the risk of spreading germs. Also, an overmolded handle becomes much more comfortable for patients and nurses to grip than metal, he said at the Aug. 4-7 conference.
Simple improvements made the cart a desired item, rather than merely a functional one.
This was a category where almost no one was paying attention, he said.
Beaverton, Ore.-based Modo has both plastics and metal processing, with 65 percent of its manufacturing in the Pacific Northwest. About 30 percent of its factories are in China, and increasingly those plants are focused on the expanding health-care market there, rather than exporting outside Asia, according to Marchant.
In 1987 he launched Modo after a career that had exposed him to earlier design breakthroughs in companies including Nike Inc. That experience has led Modo to embrace design as well, even though the company competes in a market that traditionally has not been seen as consumer focused.
Modo specializes in producing the carts that hold specific equipment used by top medical instrument makers like General Electric Co. and Boston Scientific Corp. The company's carts and stands house products such as ultrasound machines, cardiac-treatment equipment and infusion pumps.
Modo has built its reputation on basic design principals of research and on understanding what the customer needs, rather than simply filling the expected niche, Marchant said. A cart that slides more easily under a patient's bed, for instance, allows for closer contact between patient and caregivers.
But Modo also keeps an eye on manufacturability and ways to reduce costs and speed the time to market such as using the urethane wheels and low-profile base from one piece of equipment on other carts. Bins and shelves can be mixed and matched.
The intravenous stand it developed for Cardinal Health Inc., for instance, combines its abilities to research and design what makes sense for both hospitals and patients.
Weight added to the base helps to stabilize the stand as it moves through rooms and along hallways. A tray and cup holders give patients a place to secure their items while a white board provides a space for personal messages.
Color-coded overmoldings make it easier for nurses to spot the stands, as well as to identify which department a stand belongs in so it won't be used in other departments, impeding the spread of germs.
The IV pole has become part of a dehumanizing hospital experience, Mar- chant said. Why does it have to be unfashionable?