As an international corporation that does the majority of its business in markets outside of Germany, Dräger has a long history of developing global product standards in the fields of medical and safety technology. Here, the company’s management tells us how a culture of standards has made the brand one of the most successful today.
Founded in Lübeck in 1889, Dräger has grown into a worldwide, TecDAX-listed enterprise in its fifth generation as a family-run business. Bernhard Dräger was a trail-blazing inventor of the “Lubeca valve”, which he developed with his father, Johann Heinrich, founder of Dräger, during the company’s early days. For the first time, the valve made it possible to precisely control the removal of carbon dioxide from a high-pressure cylinder. The young engineer then laid the foundation six years later for the first standardization project by attempting to standardize the connection threads, which would significantly improve the use of pressure-reducing valves. A pioneer in the true sense, Bernhard was also a humanist at heart, motivated both by a genuine concern for safety and a need to make the mixed use of different valves possible.
Today, as a member of the Presidential Board of the German Institute for Standardization (DIN) and current Chairman of the Executive Board of Drägerwerk Verwaltungs AG, Stefan Dräger is continuing in his great-grandfather’s illustrious footsteps by actively engaging in standardization work. He is quick to emphasize the importance of such efforts for cross-border safety and quality: “International Standards enable technology for life manufactured by Dräger to be used all across the world at a reasonable cost.”
Putting safety first
Standards play a key role in helping the company live up to this claim and ensure product reliability. A miner rushing to the aid of fellow workers has to be able to rely completely on a closed-circuit breathing apparatus. A paediatrician at a hospital responsible for the life of a premature baby must be able to place the same kind of trust in an incubator.
An incubator is a complex product, and there are standards for nearly every component and accessory. These standards aim to eliminate potential operational risks and dangers for both the premature baby and the users, namely the paediatric team. Consider the heating mat that the infant lies on. There is an International Standard in place which specifies that thermal beds for infants are not to exceed a temperature of 40 °C to prevent damage to the underdeveloped skin so typical of premature babies.
The standard also requires control mechanisms, such as a readout of the incubator’s temperature settings and a continuous display of the surface temperature of the mattress. “We initiated a regulation governing the safety of heating mats used in thermal beds and under radiant heating systems for premature babies and newborns,” explains Dr. Jochim Koch, who headed a standards committee for neonatal care for decades as a Dräger employee. “Our constant objective is to transform what begins as a regional solution for Germany into an international standard. These can become internationally recognized ISO standards in turn.”
We are actively working to continuously improve standards.
Wolfgang Drews, who is responsible for International Standards management in Dräger’s safety division, also believes that the way in which a product can be used more effectively represents a key motivational force driving collaboration on standards. “The users – which is to say, human beings – are always the focal point of our activities. We aim to maintain high product standards with a view to enhancing the protection afforded to users.” Drews mentions one new higher standard for the respiratory minute volume of a breathing apparatus for mine rescue teams and firefighters that Dräger experts actively helped shape years ago.
Studies had revealed that the amount of breathing gas needed by people during periods of physical exertion was significantly greater than the previously assumed respiratory minute volume of 20 l/min. During initial testing, Dräger recorded volumes of between 50 l/min and 60 l/min, and even up to 100 l/min in later tests. These results were subsequently included in standards (EN 145, EN 137) for such devices, which are still in effect today.
In the future, even respiration rates of up to 135 l/min for a closed-circuit breathing apparatus are poised to become the international norm. Drews does not believe that trying to introduce a standard first and foremost for economic or competition-related reasons is the right approach. “The point is to reach a consensus, which calls for objective arguments, such as the findings from feasibility studies. That is the only way to ensure that a standard will have a chance at being accepted and applied by the industry,” he says.
Changing the status quo
These examples highlight Dräger’s approach. “From hospitals to public authorities and industry, we are actively working to continuously improve standards,” says Matthias Marzinko, Head of the company’s International Standards Management (ISM) department. Consider the Test Center at the Dräger headquarters in Lübeck, Germany. Not only do a number of employees test products here according to national and international standards, they also research new testing procedures, in part with universities and other partners.
One such example is the functional efficiency of products over their entire life cycle. As part of these efforts, a method was developed to determine the actual age of a breathing mask. Based on that information, it is then possible to conclude how much longer the product can still be used. Another testing procedure enables Dräger experts to verify the proper composition of the raw materials supplied. A key contribution to this process of continuous improvement comes from the personal initiative shown by Dräger employees, who are able to see the bigger picture. The company has always taken responsibility for its action, a concept that is rooted within its corporate culture and aims to ensure quality of life for years to come. After all, those people using Dräger equipment are entrusting their lives.
For Dräger, quality means complying with current recommendations, in addition to performing checks using its own test methods. Cooperation with international standards bodies makes it possible to include new testing procedures in the development of global standards, so that Dräger can continue to make products that protect, support and save lives.
With sales and service subsidiaries in over 50 countries, Dräger is an international leader in the fields of medical and safety technology. The company has about 13 500 employees worldwide and is currently present in more than 190 countries. Its development and production facilities are based in Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, South Africa, the USA, Brazil, the Czech Republic and China.