Fostering creativity, developing new ideas, and bringing innovations to the market – that is what the new Innovation Lab at Fresenius Medical Care has been designed for. On 300 square meters of space, developers can take time out from their day-to-day activities, form working groups, or test out new technologies.
The Innovation Lab is designed to reflect the prevailing spirit of optimism at Fresenius Medical Care: We have brilliant ideas and excellent products.
Dialysis machines are complex and take years to develop and refine. Specialists from various disciplines come together to create the next generation of machines that will help to improve patients’ health and quality of life even further. Plans need to be drawn up, specifications written, and all activities combined before a finished product can roll off the production line at a given date.
At the new Technology Center in Schweinfurt, more than 220 specialists work together to share their most important assets: their knowledge and creativity. To harness and incorporate this potential as well as possible, Fresenius Medical Care opened the first facility of its kind in October 2021: an Innovation Lab with space for developing, discussing, and testing ideas.
Creativity space and test lab
Upholding its role as market leader and a technology and innovation pioneer is a challenge that Fresenius Medical Care embraces every day. However, as innovation manager Stefan Herz has learned, “Sometimes ideas fail because of mundane obstacles – like a lack of facilities for testing.” Barriers like these will now be a thing of the past. The Innovation Lab is rolling out the red carpet for creative ideas.
It provides a large space away from day-to-day business for developing new concepts, forming temporary working groups, and discussing and trying out innovative approaches. The Innovation Lab comprises four areas: the Creativity Space, the Digital Lab, the Machine Lab, and an office that accompanies and supports projects. The centerpiece is undoubtedly the Creativity Space – a place for new ideas, events, and workshops.
“We were fortunate enough to find room in a hall on the Company’s premises for the Creativity Space,” says Herz, who has been with Fresenius Medical Care for a year now and was put in charge of the Innovation Lab. The Innovation Lab is located outside the actual Technology Center building but right next to the Production & Service Equipment department, which boasts technologies such as 3D prototype printing. Both aspects are equally important. After all, being physically distanced from your own desk and day-to-day work with its schedules, routines, and administrative tasks promotes creativity. “It simply makes a difference whether you sit down together in the usual meeting room or in another, fresher environment,” Herz adds.
And the latter is exactly what the Creativity Space is designed to be. Technical ideas that have been developed in the Creativity Space then go next door to the Digital Lab, where they are tested to see whether they have potential. The specialists here have all the possibilities of modern simulation software at their fingertips to evaluate concepts. Promising technical ideas are subsequently implemented and tried out in the Machine Lab. The office team not only coordinates the activities of the Innovation Lab, but also actively supports ideas, for example by hosting workshops, through knowledge transfer with internal and external experts, stakeholder management, and budgeting.
The Creativity Space is an open area with clean lines and bright colors that contrast with natural wood elements. “What we have created is a simple and organic working environment,” Herz explains.
The Innovation Lab is designed to be an inspirational conceptual space, with few distractions. At the same time, it offers the necessary technical infrastructure as well as “working boxes” where small groups can work on their projects.
Employees had high expectations of the Innovation Lab, even before it opened. “All of our developers love being creative and innovative and could not wait to work in the Innovation Lab,” says Herz. He also has to deal with the question of how to take creatives away from their day-to-day responsibilities for a while. “We want to make sure that people are actually released from their duties when they are involved in a promising project.”
The innovative facility comes at just the right time as Fresenius Medical Care has some exciting products in the pipeline that can benefit directly from creative new ideas. Identifying what potential can already be leveraged to develop products is essential for the success of innovative and sustainable products.
“Before we actually start developing a product, it is important that we discuss what ideas have been developed that might contribute to it, however unusual they may be,” says Herz. In other words, this calls for a better overview, more transparency, and more courage to formulate ideas, even if they might sound crazy at first. And that is exactly what the Innovation Lab is for.
All of our developers love being creative and innovative and could not wait to work in the Innovation Lab.
What does innovation mean to you?
“Developing innovative technologies is indispensable if we want to help patients and offer them even better treatment in the future. But innovation is more than just good ideas. It is an extremely long and intensive process, from the very first flash of inspiration and the initial sketch to a product that is ready for series production.
Every idea has to overcome certain hurdles along the way. We have to demonstrate that the concept is technically feasible, that there is a market for it, and that it makes economic sense. The purpose of a facility like the Innovation Lab is to encourage creativity, which is why the Creativity Space is at its heart. But we also need to support implementation and accompany promising ideas throughout their journey.
As innovation managers, our responsibility is to put employees in the driver’s seat and help them to actively realize their concepts – and ultimately to ensure that a promising idea becomes a product that represents genuine progress for us, for dialysis treatment, and for patients,” outlines Herz.