Ottobock – mobility for people
All around the world, the Ottobock name stands for high-quality and technologically outstanding products and services in the field of medical technology. The goal of helping to restore mobility for people with disabilities – and protect the mobility they have retained – stands behind each and every one of the company’s products. Our conviction that quality of life is closely connected to a maximum of individual freedom and independence is a key concept that has been a major influence throughout the company’s nearly 100-year history. It also provides targeted focus for the development of new products.
Ottobock is a med-tech company that has been operating in the legal form SE & Co. KGaA since 2018 and has seen stable growth for years: in 2017, sales rose by 4.6 per cent to EUR 927.4 million, adjusted for currency exchange effects, and the number of employees increased to 7,000 worldwide. The company’s international activities are coordinated from the head office in Duderstadt. A network consisting of sales and service companies in over 50 countries gives the company a global presence which enables close proximity to its customers. Thanks to the Prosthetics, Orthotics, Human Mobility (manual and power wheelchairs, rehabilitation products) and Ottobock Industrials business segments as well as the Clinical Services Network, the company is perfectly positioned and capable of offering its customers a nearly incomparable breadth of products, perfectly harmonised solutions and extensive services.
“Quality for life”
Swedish private equity firm EQT holds a 20 per cent share in Ottobock SE & Co. KGaA. Eighty percent remains in the hands of Näder Holding GmbH & Co. KG, which belongs entirely to the owner family, the Näders.
Ottobock’s products set standards
A key area of Ottobock’s research and development consists of mechatronic solutions for the autoadaptive control of prosthetic components. The electronic intelligence integrated into the product takes the burden off the user by enabling the systems to adapt to different conditions and everyday situations automatically. Based on this technology, products from our prosthetics range are continuously setting standards in the provision of medical devices to people with disabilities. Launched in 1997, the C-Leg was the first lower limb prosthesis solution in the world to be controlled entirely by a microprocessor. In 2011, the global leader market leader in exo-prosthetics presented another product development milestone: the Genium – Bionic Prosthetic Solution, which simulates a natural, physiological gait almost perfectly. The Michelangelo prosthetic hand, in turn, represents a quantum leap in upper limb prosthetics. Controlled by muscle signals, it offers four movable fingers and a thumb that can be positioned separately so the user can execute different types of gripping movements quickly, accurately and reliably.
Highlights in 2015 included the launch of the Kenevo, making the benefits of microprocessor-controlled lower limb prosthesis solutions available to people with lower mobility grades for the first time. Meanwhile, the Genium X3 and the fourth generation of the C-Leg established themselves as state-of-the-art technology for more active transfemoral amputees.
Ottobock is also a global market leader in the field of neuroorthopaedics. These devices are intended for people who are affected by complete or partial lower limb paralysis. The C-Brace® knee-ankle-foot orthosis is the first mechatronic orthotic solution in the world that controls the entire gait cycle dynamically and in real time.
Strict quality control standards are essential due to reliability and safety requirements as well as the amount of strain placed on the products. Before a new Ottobock prosthetic foot is brought to market, for example, it is tested in special gait simulators where it covers around three million steps. Furthermore, complex testing at the gait lab provides insights into the reaction forces at work during the rollover of a prosthetic foot or the influence that a prosthesis has on the metabolism of the test subject. This helps us identify solutions that reduce user effort as much as possible.
In addition to product quality, a further focus is the quality of the fitting process. Ottobock’s MedicalCare department now operates over 130 fitting centres around the world. Business customers to whom Ottobock Business Service makes its range and know-how available as services also benefit from the knowledge acquired at these centres. This includes expertise with respect to high-quality fittings as well as a detailed understanding of the market and the individual business models developed for countries and regions.
Training and continuing education provided by the Ottobock Academy
Sharing state-of-the-art specialist expertise, ensuring the quality of prosthetic care and using a targeted approach to counter the international shortage of skilled workers: based on these objectives, the Ottobock Academy pursues a strong role in the training and continuing education of orthopaedic and rehabilitation technicians. The extensive and varied programme is directed at all experts participating in a patient’s fitting process. It is also attended by Ottobock employees from around the world, enabling them to provide customers and partners with qualified advice and support. In cooperation with the PFH Private University of Applied Sciences in Göttingen and the University of Göttingen, as well as other partners in medicine and science, Ottobock has developed courses of study in the fields of orthobionics and healthcare technology. These courses bridge the gap between medical research, modern medicine and orthopaedic technology.
Ottobock’s commitment to disability sport has long been a fixture of the company’s philosophy. The goal is to place people with disabilities at the centre of society and highlight their incredible abilities as athletes and role models, demonstrating that sports and performance can give people new courage to face life. This spirit is embodied by the Paralympic Games, which Ottobock has actively backed and supported since the Games in Seoul in 1988. At Rio 2016, Ottobock put in a total of 14,500 hours of work with a 100-member technical service team made up of technicians from 29 countries. During this time, 2,408 repair orders involving 3,361 individual repairs were carried out. Ottobock has been a partner of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) since 2005 and extended this contract until the end of 2020 at the Games in Rio.
Bötzow Quarter – room for ideas
Ottobock has started systematically expanding its presence in Berlin in the run-up to the company’s 100-year anniversary in 2019. The goal is to advance vital topics for the future – such as the digitalisation of orthopaedic technology – and attract the right talent and creative minds that will help the family company achieve this objective. Interdisciplinary teams from various Ottobock sites will come together at the premises of the former Bötzow Brewery in the Prenzlauer Berg district, a listed historic site. Here they will set their sights on the future and work on implementing the company’s ambitious digital strategy.
Prosthetics is the largest business unit at Ottobock SE & Co. KGaA. Its service and sales companies in 50 countries establish close proximity to its customers around the world, thus forming a solid foundation for the company’s further development. As the global leader in exo-prosthetics, products in this area in particular have continually set standards in the prosthetic care of people with disabilities. Launched in 1997, the C-Leg was the first lower limb prosthesis solution in the world to be controlled entirely by a microprocessor. The firm conviction that this technology would be revolutionary for transfemoral amputees and open up new dimensions in terms of their walking ability was the basis of many years of intensive research and development. Another product development milestone is the Genium – Bionic Prosthetic System. Presented in 2011, it simulates a natural, physiological gait almost perfectly. The Genium supports the natural movement pattern down to the last detail thanks to state-of-the-art computer, sensor and control technology. Combined with the new Triton prosthetic feet made from carbon, it represents a quantum leap in prosthetic care. The creative process within research and development at Ottobock consists of deriving technological solutions from knowledge relating to natural movement patterns and biomechanical relationships. This was achieved in an extraordinary manner with the Michelangelo prosthetic hand. Controlled by muscle signals, it offers four movable fingers and a thumb that can be positioned separately by electronic means. The Michelangelo hand enables upper limb amputees to carry out different grasping movements precisely, quickly and reliably at a previously unattained level. “With our prosthesis solutions, amputees can experience an unprecedented level of mobility and quality of life,” summarises Dr Helmut Pfuhl, Head of the Prosthetics business unit. “Our goal is to offer custom product solutions for different countries and regions around the world. The special challenge here consists of taking into account their very heterogeneous requirements and health systems. In addition to a consistent customer and market focus, this requires a high degree of flexibility. But one thing remains unchanged: the quality standards we place on products that are ‘made by Ottobock’ will always have top priority.”
The Prosthetics business unit also comprises the “Socket Technologies” department, which focuses on the best possible methods of connecting the prosthesis to the human body. The right combination of liner and suspension systems is essential for the success of each and every prosthetic fitting. A large selection of liner materials, the use of patented vacuum technology as well as various suspension systems play a key role in ensuring safety and wearer comfort – thereby promoting the integration of lower limb amputees in their professional and personal environments.
Divided into two areas, the Orthotics business unit is a rapidly-growing division at Ottobock. Activity and Sports Medicine specialises in temporary orthotic fittings that are used after accidents and injuries or in connection with other mobility issues. These devices support the therapy prescribed by the doctor in a targeted and effective manner. “We see our products as an important and contemporary component of medical therapy,” explains Frank Bömers, Head of the Orthotics business unit at Ottobock. “Close cooperation and an intensive dialogue with doctors are therefore of great importance to us. The aim for our innovative product developments must be to integrate them into medical therapy in a meaningful and effective manner.” Against this backdrop, Ottobock established the Clinical Excellence Circle (CEC), a network of medical specialists who share the goal of developing innovative orthotic products as well as therapy and training concepts. The experienced team of orthopaedists, specialists in sports medicine, neurologists, physiotherapists, O&P professionals and biomechanical experts forms the basis for promoting interdisciplinary cooperation. In addition, studies are conducted to provide firm evidence of the therapeutic benefit of the products. An example of a product that was successfully developed in cooperation with the CEC is the Patella Pro re-alignment brace. Anterior knee pain is one of the most common reasons for visiting an orthopaedist. The Patella Pro sets new standards in this context. Its unique alignment helps to reduce pain – and this has been confirmed by scientific studies. Another product that was developed in collaboration with the CEC is the Malleo TriStep. This orthosis is used in connection with ankle sprains. It is designed so that special functional and stabilising elements can be added or removed in three stages depending on the healing phase. This allows the entire healing process to be covered with a single fitting.
Ottobock is the world market leader in the NeuroOrthopaedics segment. The company’s orthoses for users with paralysis – knee-ankle-foot or ankle-foot orthoses – provide a long-term solution for individuals affected by complete or partial lower limb paralysis. “Giving people freedom of movement and allowing them to walk safely in everyday life again is the same as giving them the gift of quality of life,” says Bömers. In this context, the C-Brace is the most recent example of an outstanding development that helps users regain lost mobility. This device – the first mechatronic orthosis system in the world – controls the entire gait cycle dynamically and in real time. It responds intelligently to any situation in which the user may find themselves, regardless of whether they are on a staircase, a ramp or uneven terrain.
Giving people with disabilities an equal chance to participate in life, return to work, pursue hobbies and navigate everyday life independently and without assistance according to their personal capabilities: for the Mobility Solutions division, the topic of inclusion is a central aspect that forms the basis for a large number of developments in this business unit. The division’s extensive range consists of manual and power wheelchairs as well as numerous rehabilitation products, including standing supports, seating systems and seat cushions. These products help to restore mobility for people and integrate them into society and social life on a long-term basis. An example of this is the 24-hour posture and positioning concept for children: A suitable device gives children with movement issues the necessary postural support during the entire day and night so they can use free space for playing, moving about and interacting with others. Users with greater motor restrictions experience freedom and independence thanks to the integration of special and environmental controls for power wheelchairs, which are adjusted and customised for their requirements and abilities. State-of-the-art Bluetooth and infrared technology can be used to control phones, mobile phones, computers, wall outlets, lamps, blinds, doors and much more at home or in the workplace. A wide range of sporting equipment allows people with disabilities to experience a sense of community and actively engage in pastime activities in addition to the therapeutic aspect it provides. Caring for stroke patients is also becoming increasingly important due to the global demographic changes in our society. In this context, Ottobock works across divisions with the Orthotics and Neurorehabilitation business units to develop solutions that help restore mobility for people after a stroke.
The company has manufactured wheelchairs at its location in Königsee, Thuringia, since 1992 and has seen continual growth since then, in part due to the addition of international production sites. The areas of research and development, product management and production were combined here under one roof with the goal of pooling expertise at a single location and continually enhancing communication and development processes.
The MedicalCare business unit demonstrates that Ottobock is a highly specialised service company thanks to extensive services that cover every aspect of high-quality patient care and professional workshop management. The company now operates over 120 fitting centres around the world in its Patient Care area. The knowledge acquired here benefits not only the Patient Care centres themselves, but also the business customers to whom Ottobock makes its range and know-how available as services. This includes expertise with respect to patient care as well as a detailed understanding of the market and the individual business models developed for countries and regions. “Our primary goal is to tap into new markets and ensure high-quality orthopaedic technology care for people in cooperation with our business partners and our own Patient Care centres,” sums up Reinhard Halbach, Head of the MedicalCare business unit. “We want to share the knowledge and experience we gain in our own Patient Care centres – for example with regards to process optimisation – with our business partners in the form of services.” But this transfer of expertise isn’t one-sided. Practical experience that results from working with Ottobock products in the Patient Care centres is also incorporated into the research and development of new products and services. “This intensive transfer of knowledge ultimately benefits everyone,” says Halbach.
One of the key services provided by the business unit is process optimisation in the orthopaedic technology workshop. Service Fabrication, which custom fabricates and delivers products on the basis of user data, plays a crucial role in this context. Ranging from customised orthoses to prosthetic sockets and liners as well as a wide range of silicone products – Service Fabrication works with state-of-the-art technology, materials and production methods. Process optimisation and safety in the workplace are also important aspects of the Planning & Equipping division, which provides professional support for spatial concepts and area utilisation plans. The service comprises not only consulting and planning, but also equipping workshops with appropriate machines. Financial planning and a cost-efficiency analysis are likewise included. In addition, IT Systems provides support for Ottobock’s partners in the implementation of patient administration software. The extensive range of programmes offered by the Ottobock Academy with respect to professional orthopaedic technology and therapeutic development round out the department’s services.