Research and development is at the beating heart of the mobility industry. The most innovative equipment suppliers pour significant resources into R&D to ensure the next generation of equipment is even better and more advanced than the last.
In this special report, AMP gives equipment supplier, Handicare, a unique opportunity to discuss its approach to R&D and explore some of the thinking behind the cutting-edge developments taking the market by storm.
AMP Editor Joe Peskett spoke exclusively with the director of operations at the West Midlands-based firm, Richard Whitehouse.
JP: How important is R&D to you as a company and what sort of approach do you take towards managing R&D?
RW: R&D is vital to Handicare as we see that there is a long term need to continue the development of our products as we strive to provide the best possible help and support for our customers. This can be by increasing capability in terms of strength or functionality but also by reducing complexity for installation and making units more compact.
To achieve all this Handicare R&D is customer-led, basing our priorities on what is needed by the market, but above all by the end user.
JP: When it comes to recent R&D activities, what are you as a company most proud of?
RW: Produced in Kingswinford we are most proud of our wide range of stairlift products, with our 950 and 1000 straight tracks and our 2000 for curved applications we provide a full portfolio for our customers.
For the 2000 we have made considerable investment in time and capital to reduce the number of joints and eliminate as many bolts as possible to make the assembly easier and above all to make the customer’s ride even better in service. This has included over 500k in machinery and welding technology and some revolutionary tube joining techniques. This is now paying dividends in customer comfort and in dramatic sales growth.
Considerable effort is now being deployed to continually improve the products. This includes extensive research and development activity for components where we are working to make assembly easier and also into the painting technology.
JP: How do you expect your R&D strategy to develop in the future?
RW: In many ways this will be more of the same. Focused as always on the customer and to continually improve what we have. We are increasing our rigour and disciplines in the design so that we expect to reduce our time to market of improvements and avoid those niggles of ‘teething troubles’.
We will also start to take a more holistic approach that will lead to significant steps in product development as the improvements become ever greater.
JP: Why is it important for dealers to work with those suppliers most committed to R&D?
RW: Essentially if they want to stay ahead in the market place then they need products that are always at the leading edge. This doesn’t mean they are the most expensive, but that they deliver what the customer needs and that little bit more.
Perhaps more importantly it means that they are working with a manufacturer who will listen.
JP: What kind of a barrier is money when it comes to R&D?
RW: Money is always that most scarce of resources. As such it is vital we make the best use of it. We are lucky here in the UK to have a large R&D centre and we are investing in people and facilities all the time. We have a couple of interns in place at the moment and they have done great work for us, in terms of both ideas and detail, while their quality of work has been fantastic. We have put the R&D department into the suite of departments where we allocate our apprentices and we are looking to add more to the team as appropriate so we continually develop our people at all levels.