The company had been assembling the devices at its Finnish factory for years, but the sudden influx of urgent requests from intensive care units across the world was unprecedented. Nearly 200 new manufacturing employees were hired to cope with the soaring demand.
"We were cranking out volumes that the factory had never experienced before," recalls GE Healthcare General Manager for monitoring solutions, Neal Sandy.
Today, the company's Finnish operations include a thriving R&D and manufacturing site
"Our team in Finland was absolutely essential in executing patient monitoring production, as well as supporting ventilator production in other parts of our business, both of which were critical in response to the pandemic. I am really proud of them; not only did they work extraordinarily hard during that time, but they were fast, nimble and resilient."
GE Healthcare first put down roots in Finland in 2003 with the €2.02Bn ($2.4Bn) acquisition of Finnish medical equipment manufacturer Instrumentarium Oyj, which established Helsinki as one of GE's global centres of excellence for its medical technology division. Today, its Finnish operations include a thriving R&D and manufacturing site.
GE Healthcare has also benefitted from funding from the Finnish innovation funding agency, receiving €10M to fuel the development of small, wearable, wireless patient monitors as part of its €28.5M research project, which employed 60 new employees in Finland.
"These medical devices are complicated so there is continued room for innovation," says Sandy. "Business Finland has been a great partner of ours because our goals are mutually aligned. We have been able to develop some ambitious technology," he continues.
"The cost of engineering is relatively reasonable compared with other parts of the world."
For GE Healthcare, the availability of a highly educated workforce is invaluable. "Our team in Finland has deep clinical engineering skills, but the cost of engineering is relatively reasonable compared with other parts of the world," Sandy says. "They are hard-working, talented, natural global thinkers."
Facilitating this collaboration has been a top priority for GE Healthcare. In 2014, the medtech giant launched the Health Innovation Village, its first healthtech start-up campus, opening up a portion of its facility in Helsinki for nascent businesses.
"It gives them an opportunity not only to have a space but also to interact with our employee group," says Sandy. "It is about sharing a common place to have a conversation about innovation. Certainly, I think it is useful for those companies but it is also very beneficial for our team because they see young start-ups working hard to build their business."
Finland is dedicated to fostering public-private partnerships and creating a flourishing ecosystem for health research and development. An array of testbeds provide companies with a real hospital environment for developing new products and services, giving access to feedback from healthcare professionals and patients.
An array of testbeds provide companies with a real hospital environment for developing new products and services.
This is something Sandy and his colleagues have found hugely beneficial. "We have a great relationship with some of the hospitals in Helsinki and have worked on various research projects with them," he says.
Given this success, it is hardly surprising GE Healthcare plans to increase its Finnish R&D operations. "We recently made the decision to add incremental engineering resources and transfer some of the products that were being designed elsewhere to Finland," explains Sandy. "The output of the Helsinki team has meant we want to invest more."