Maker of medical models sees many opportunities for growth
Firm features some of the same technologies used in the auto industry.
While 2009 was an awful year for many West Michigan businesses, Jim TenBrink and Joel Zylstra saw it as their window of opportunity for starting a medical modeling company with a new approach to product development.
The pair already had experience in the industry, working together at a firm that supplied medical models, but TenBrink said he and Zylstra had a lot of ideas they didn’t feel they could implement at that company.
TenBrink and Zylstra wanted to harness the same technologies being used successfully in the auto industry, such as CAD design and engineering, injection molding and 3-D printing, to create products for the medical device and training industry.
Because business was down for auto-parts manufacturers due to the recession, TenBrink said it was the perfect opportunity to begin working with those businesses on creating medical models.
“They were once all automotive; we’ve introduced medical to them,” he said. “It’s done well for the economy here.”
Today, Holland-based Encoris develops and manufactures medical sales demonstration/patient education models and surgical trainers for trade show displays, medical device promotion and medical education.
TenBrink said using the technologies cuts down on time and costs for customers.
“In real time over the web, we can design medical models that are extremely complex,” TenBrink said. “Once the model is designed, you just send that data to a 3D printer, and then work from that 3D print on developing the master and, ultimately, the model.
“You’re no longer having to send bones back and forth,” he added.
Encoris primarily serves orthopedic-focused medical device companies, but TenBrink said opportunities are growing for its products in other specialties such as general surgery, ultrasound training, gynecology, minimally invasive surgery, dental and veterinarian medicine.
“Any time a medical device company comes out with an implant, they need to show surgeons how to use it — not just the implant but all of the tools necessary to implement it,” TenBrink said.
“We can build models around that implant to show whatever the medical device companies want to show.”
TenBrink said Encoris’ products stand out in the medical models industry because of their “sexy, crisp, clean” look. He said the models began drawing attention quickly, helping the company achieve consistent growth of 15 to 20 percent.
Approximately 85 percent of Encoris’ current business is in North America, but the company has its sights set on expansion in foreign markets.
The company’s 2015 marketing effort was focused on finding and establishing international strategic alliances, and TenBrink said Encoris currently is working on deals with an Italian university and a German business.
“The Italian university has initiated an agreement with Encoris to develop, manufacture and commercialize surgical training models worldwide,” TenBrink said. “The first project involves a redesign on a patented ultrasound kidney trainer for PCNL training.”
PCNL — percutaneous nephrolithotomy —is a technique for treating large kidney stones. It involves keyhole surgery performed through a very small incision.
“Given our knowledge of life-like materials and unique mold-making processes, we are enhancing the model to provide better anatomical and tactile realism, to be more user-friendly and have a much longer shelf life.”
TenBrink said the model is non-biological, re-usable, and ultrasound and X-ray compatible, and it can be adapted for different kinds of renal presentations, such as hydronephrotic, staghorn stone, and upper or lower caliceal stones.
Encoris is working to finalize an agreement with the German company, as well. That company creates anatomical foam models.
“The company sought Encoris specifically for our quality, clear medical models and is considering the opportunity of cataloging and distributing our clear bone models to its 1,500 distributors world-wide,” TenBrink said.
TenBrink said he is also excited for the rollout of Encoris’ Surgical Smart Trainer, which he expects to occur in 2016.
“It’s been in development for two years, but I see 2016 as the year we can get it out there and market and sell the technology,” he said.
The Surgical Smart Trainer is basically an operating room in a box, TenBrink said.
“The trainer is all-encompassing, providing X-ray-like illuminated anatomy and built-in pathologies, offering a hands-on training experience for surgical placement of medical implants,” he said.
“Built into the model’s CPU is a customized web app that works in conjunction with computer-driven visual aids, allowing trainees to see full A/P/L visuals of the internal, intricate details of the surgical procedure.”
TenBrink said the proprietary app captures real-time video feed and wirelessly displays the surgical footage on a password-protected website viewable on any desktop, iPad, tablet or smartphone device. He said that is a “big plus” for trade show venues with large crowds or for educators who can provide remote training via the web to distributors and surgeons worldwide.
Up until now, TenBrink said, traditional training has been done on cadavers, which comes with several challenges, including the fact that medical device companies are limited to a hospital or cadaver lab for their training. Plus, he said, it’s more expensive.
With the Surgical Smart Trainer, diseases can be built in, TenBrink said, enabling a wider array of training options.