Abbott Switzerland - Giving the heart a helping hand
The heart is the most important organ in the human body. If it stops working, the consequences are almost always fatal. "Even if the heart continues to beat regularly but cannot perform at its best due to illness, the consequences for those affected can still be drastic", explains Andreas Fleischli, Site Manager at Abbot's Zurich location. And it is precisely these people that the Group wants to help to achieve longer life expectancy through technical innovations — while simultaneously enabling them to have a significantly higher quality of life. "Ideally, the users of our products will live longer and better lives", Andreas Fleischli summarises Abbott's mission.
Innovation for a better life
The Abbott Group is an international company active in the "business of life". Specifically, the Group is driving innovation worldwide in the areas of diagnostics, medical technology, medical nutrition and the development of branded generics. The company was founded in Chicago in 1888 by Wallace C. Abbott. Today, the Group employs 115,000 people worldwide. In Switzerland, around 600 employees work in different locations across the various Abbott divisions.
But how can this goal be achieved in concrete terms? For this purpose, the Zurich site relies on the world-renowned engineering of Switzerland: About 30 years ago, research began on the development of magnetic bearing motors. What is interesting is that, unlike ball bearings, magnetic forces allow these bearings to be installed inside the motor without making physical contact with any material. This significantly reduces wear, friction and shear forces. "This makes the use of magnetic bearing motors highly interesting, especially in the field of medical technology", explains Andreas Fleischli, who has supported the project from the very beginning as an electrical engineer.
Giving the heart a helping hand
Accordingly, the magnetic bearing principle from Switzerland is being further developed for the medical technology industry, in tandem with industrial partners. The thinking behind this is impressive: The magnetic bearings are to be used in blood pumps, among other things. These devices are implanted in those with advanced cardiac insufficiency, i.e. severe heart failure. "The pumps allow mechanical circulatory support, which helps the heart of the affected person to operate more effectively again", explains Fleischli.
In 2014, the project reached an essential milestone: A blood pump by the name of "HeartMate3" was implanted in a heart failure patient for the first time. Among other things, the implants make use of the magnetic bearings from Switzerland. For several reasons, their operation is essential for the functioning of the device: "They produce lower shear forces and no friction when in use, meaning the risk of blood particles accumulating in the pump is minimised", explains Andreas Fleischli. The implantation was a complete success and the device is still supporting the patient's heart today. "This moment remains very special for everyone involved."
For a life that is truly worth living
The Zurich site has been part of the American company Abbott since 2017. Since then, they have been driving the development of various medical devices under the Abbott umbrella, especially the HeartMate3. Knowing how fundamentally the device changes the lives of affected people for the better remains an enormous motivation for Andreas Fleischli. "Some time ago, a HeartMate3 patient visited our manufacturing department in Zurich", says the site manager. The fact that the man, thanks to the blood pump in his body, was able to climb stairs again without any problems left a lasting impression on all those present. "That really shows us what we're working for", says Andreas Fleischli with a smile.
Of course, he and his team aren't resting on their laurels, they are always looking ahead. "Digitalisation has enormous potential for our applications and there are also exciting opportunities in terms of material technology — but I can't reveal more than that at the moment, unfortunately." When it comes to their tools, however, it's no secret that Abbott Switzerland has always relied on the expertise of Brütsch/Rüegger Tools. This applies not only to tools for manufacturing, but also to the ergonomics in operation. Read more about this in the title story of this issue of ToolNews.