Can you tell me who you are and what your job role is at Vernacare?
I am Garry Partington, Research and Development Manager for Vernacare. I'm responsible for the design and development of our range of macerator disposal units and the tooling used to create our pulp single-use urinals, bedpans, bowls and other single-use containers.
In addition to creating products, I also design and develop some of the technology used in our manufacturing processes. This included a major multi-million pound project to fully automate inspection and packing of our pulp single-use containers. It was a major innovation challenge, but together with my engineering and manufacturing colleagues, we transformed the operation from a manual to high volume automatic process. We currently produce more than 170 million units each year and the technology means that we can accommodate higher output in the future. Ultimately, this will guarantee supply for healthcare facilities around the world.
How do you think Vernacare has changed since you first joined the business?
I joined Vernacare as an apprentice engineering draftsman in 1978, which involved studies in mechanical and production engineering at the University of Bolton. During my 40 years in the business, I've seen a lot of changes, but we still make the Vernacare single-use system for safe and hygienic patient toileting that we did back then. This original product range has, however, changed considerably and grown dramatically through continuous improvement and innovation.
I've worked on many different macerator disposal units over the past decades. Later this year we'll be launching our Compact+ model, which is our most advanced yet. This follows the 2017 launch of our space efficient Vernacare Compact, which is the smallest disposal unit on the market and supports infection prevention at the point of patient care.
The technology I work with has certainly changed and it's great to work with 3D CAD and rapid prototyping machinery today, rather than doing everything by hand on the drawing board.
What is a typical day like for you?
There's no such thing as a typical day. I can be working on designs for new products, or making more subtle improvements to existing products. I manage a team of three and we are continuously exploring new product ideas and developing prototypes, which we strenuously test at our production site and in hospital settings. Our R&D, engineering and manufacturing are all co-located under one roof, so it's great to be able to tap into the expertise of colleagues from these departments and to ensure that our designs are optimised for manufacture.
This makes a big difference to getting products right first time and helps us accelerate our speed to market. I also meet regularly with our sales and marketing team and service engineers, and try to get out to meet customers as much as possible. This gives me regular feedback from the market and means that I can respond to any ideas they have for improving our existing products or developing new ones.
"Good information from the market place is critical in developing ideas for new products and ensuring that existing products are performing to their best."
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I enjoy the variety. There's not many engineering design roles where you would work on such a broad product range, or have access to the sophisticated design technologies that we have. We use 3D CAD, robotics, electronics and rapid prototyping and it's amazing to see initial product ideas come to life in this way.
I really enjoy the problem solving and creative side of my job. It's great – both in developing new products and in continually improving other products.
What are the challenges?
We sell our products to more than 50 international markets and this is increasing all the time, so it's a challenge to ensure that products meet the different technical and regulatory requirements of the individual countries. Working closely with our network of distributor partners is key to understanding and overcoming these challenges.
What is critical for you to ensure success?
Good information from the market place is critical in developing ideas for products and ensuring that existing products are performing to their best. Fortunately, we have excellent relationships with clinicians, estates managers and infection prevention specialists in healthcare facilities around the world. Our account managers and service team are always out in the field, so we keep very close to our customers.
It may sound obvious, but getting products completely right before introducing to the market is an absolute essential. We have a very thorough product lifecycle testing process - starting in our R&D centre and factory, which involves strenuous stress testing of key components. Once we are satisfied with performance, we then take prototypes out and see how they perform in clinical settings. Once we are 100% confident, we then launch to the wider market.
Tell us something we don’t know about you…
I'm a classic sports car fan and have been lovingly renovating my TVR over the past few years. It's also my ambition to qualify as a pilot. I have got as far as flying solo, but it's an expensive hobby and I need to save some money to continue with flying lessons.
I've been a lifelong Bolton Wanderers' fan and have followed their varied fortunes over the years, which has certainly had its ups and downs! I also played football, as a goalie, until I hit 50. I'm now trying, unsuccessfully, to persuade my friends to form a walking football team!