Medical Technical Gear Gets Fast Fixes

June 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — From Eric Gelman’s perspective, the traditional method of ordering replacement parts and supplies for complex equipment from spare part lists wasn’t meeting buyers’ and suppliers’ needs.

Spare parts on lists were usually referenced by “laborious” and sometimes “confusing” engineering descriptions. In some circumstances, expensive hospital diagnostic equipment would be idle for days waiting for a factory representative to show up and figure out the glitch.

Gelman, president of Fairport, N.Y.-based LabVortex, had an idea of how to make the replacement process faster and easier using “build-down” technology and parts schematics online. 

The whole idea, Gelman said, was to simplify and expedite the parts replacement process, thereby reducing manufacturing delays or delays in medical or research results when a critical piece of equipment stops functioning.

LabVortex 18 months ago introduced the software to manufacturers of such equipment. The software originally was developed strictly for the laboratory/analytical instrument market.

Since then, however, Gelman and sales manager Jeff Moore — who heads the company’s Grand Rapids office — expanded the software’s scope to all manufacturers of complex equipment that have a strong after-market parts need.

When customers click on a part within an online diagram or photo, the software activates detailed information about that part, linking the customer to the next level down of componentry or subcomponentry. Also included in such details are the parts’ order numbers, as well as numbers of new parts which are updates of original equipment.

A click of the mouse then pulls up all the information on those parts and any related parts that a firm might need to make the repair. Once the customer identifies the parts, it can order them online directly from the manufacturer.

“It’s a way for manufacturers to facilitate the ordering of parts by their customers from them specifically,” Gelman explained. 

The software also can be used as a help-desk tool, giving technicians the ability to pinpoint problems and troubleshoot online with the layman who needs to get the equipment back in operation. 

“If you were using Windows-based software,” Gelman said, “I could, with your permission, literally take control of your computer and go in and examine the settings, so it’s a powerful diagnostic and troubleshooting tool.”

As Gelman explained, banner advertising is part of the software function. It enables manufacturers who license the software to use it to market the next generation to their own customers.

“This is a very powerful database marketing tool because you know, based upon what a person is looking at, what the profile of that customer is,” Gelman observed.

“If a customer is going to the site looking for information or parts for a 15-year-old product, you know that customer is a user of that product and you can target advertising to the specifics of that product in terms of trade-in programs, spare-part bundles or service warranties for that product.” 

Typically, LabVortex provides the software to manufacturers under licensing agreements, and manufacturers incorporate the software into their Web sites. Though the company will host sites for manufacturers as well, most of its revenues are generated by software licensing fees.

“We theorized that since many of the manufacturers were not able to develop these technology solutions internally, if we were to develop it, we could provide it for them as a turnkey solution.

“We had the idea of what we wanted to accomplish theoretically but we had no idea technologically how to do it.”

 

 “It was very difficult to find a firm with the appropriate background because it involved combining the CAD background with e-commerce with Web. Sagestone, right from the start, had a pretty good idea about how to do it.”

It took about six months to develop the initial technology platform, said Peter Richardson, Sagestone project manager.

Sagestone continues to work with LabVortex to enhance the site and find ways to bring out further generations of the technology.

“One of the biggest challenges was getting the content together in such a way that would allow for the ‘drill down’ or ‘identify’ portion of the site — which made it unique — and getting that content and the CAD drawings and the data base all synced-up together to make it viable for the end user,” Richardson recalled.

The few other software companies that do something similar to LabVortex — two or three have evolved since the start of the LabVortex project — target the Fortune 500 companies.

Gelman said LabVortex is the only company out there with a product that can reach the majority of firms that aren’t among the Fortune 500.

He estimates there are some 47,000 manufacturing companies in the United States that make products that can use LabVortex software and technology, and his company is targeting the 98 percent of them with under $150 million in annual sales.

“The other companies that have what we might call competitive products cannot address that market because their software sells from anywhere from $1 million to $5 million,” Gelman observed. “So we have potentially 45,000 manufacturers we can approach. It’s a niche where we stand alone.”

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