May 4, 2016

Quality Manufacturing Becomes Personal at Medtronic Plant

Employees commit to practicing accountability, building empathy, and remembering "when you touch the product, you touch the patient."

Sometimes a job is more like a passion.

“It’s more than that,” says Bill Van Nieuwenhuyze. “For me, it’s more like a calling.”

Bill is part of a team of 1,500 employees at one of Medtronic’s largest manufacturing facilities, located in North Haven, Connecticut. He works in Quality Assurance, and is in charge of a team of people that ensure that the surgical products they produce can be trusted by surgeons and patients around the globe. 

Sixteen years ago, Bill rediscovered the importance of quality products – forever changing the way he approached his work.

“It was an emergency C-section,” he recalls, when describing the day his son Billy was born. “If the doctors hadn’t gotten him out when they did, there could’ve been serious problems. He couldn’t breathe.”

In his work at the plant, Bill was essentially giving the “green light” to release surgical sutures into the field to be used in procedures. As it turned out, the very same sutures he approved were needed following his wife’s C-section delivery.

“I was floored, and my jaw dropped,” says Bill. “I was responsible for this, and I knew the people who tested it, and made it.”

From that point on, Bill had a personal story that not only reinforced the importance of his own role, but a story he would share hundreds of times with his coworkers to stress the importance of quality. 

Today, that mindset is part of the culture at Medtronic – whether someone works on a manufacturing shop floor, or is a sales rep in the field.

“With every action and every activity, we ask how it will impact the patient,” says Roberto Munoz, the plant’s quality director. “And we always ask how we can do it even better.”

Known around the company as “Quality Begins with Me,” the culture instilled in North Haven and across Medtronic is based on building a workplace environment where employees feel empowered to speak up if they see something that’s not right. That means even stopping the production line if they see something out of place. Doing so is, in fact, encouraged and expected.  Leaders ask employees to be accountable, courageous, preventative and to put the patient first.

Munoz says the culture has been “very eye-opening for people.”

“We have 1,500 people on the line working with their hands. We want them to work with their heads, too,” he says. “Every time you touch the product, you touch the patient.”

Not only are employees saying they have a heightened awareness of defects and potential issues, but there’s a sense of empathy, too.

And for people like Bill, that’s what it’s all about.

“That’s the driving force behind what I do and it’s what I want my team to feel every day.”