Erbe Elektromedizin GmbH: Fostering Global Collaboration with Researchers,    Doctors, and Patients

Christian O. Erbe, CEO of the Tübingen-based family-owned company, emphasizes Innovation and Customer Engagement as Essential for Success. Additionally, Erbe assumes presidency of the BWIHK, strengthening his influential role in the business community.

There are many global challenges for companies in Germany. Do these slow down your business?

The prevailing crises should not be underestimated as they present significant challenges that affect every company. While it is often believed that the medical technology sector is immune to crises, we are not exempt from the impact of global challenges. One notable area of concern is the disruption in supply chains, making it difficult to obtain necessary products and maintain manufacturing processes. Furthermore, the shortage of skilled workers poses a pressing issue with 80 vacant positions that require immediate attention. Additionally, the escalating energy prices create uncertainty about future costs. These issues undeniably have an impact on our operations, and it remains uncertain how they will ultimately affect the company’s results. However, with a history spanning 171 years, we have consistently overcome obstacles and persevered. I am confident that we will find solutions to navigate these hurdles and ensure the company’s continued success.

What is the rationale behind your major investment in manufacturing in Rangendingen?

We have initiated a significant investment in manufacturing located in Rangendingen, which is conveniently situated approximately twenty minutes away from Tübingen by car. Rangendingen is home to our plant where we specialize in the production of sterile disposable instruments for various medical disciplines, including general surgery, gastroenterology, urology, gynecology, and more. Our aim is to expand this manufacturing facility. These instruments are intelligently designed, as we incorporate software into them, and they are seamlessly integrated with the workstations manufactured at our Tübingen plant. Together, they form a cohesive system that caters to the specific workflows within the operating room. It is worth noting that there is a steady increase in demand for these products, highlighting their growing importance in the market.

How has your company managed to stay competitive and hold a top position in the global market for so many years?

Our company’s foundation lies in technology, specifically our expertise in working with electric current to achieve simultaneous tissue cutting and hemostasis. Devices utilizing this technology can be found in operating rooms worldwide, including those of our competitors. To further enhance our position, we have also embraced other high-frequency surgery technologies. Gas plasma enables non-contact surgery, while waterjet surgery allows tissue cutting without damaging nearby vessels. Additionally, cold surgery enables the precise removal of uninjured tissue for accurate diagnosis.

Highlighting our commitment to customization, we offer a wide range of modules and software that allow for highly individualized workstations. Doctors specify their requirements, and we program the configurations accordingly. This level of personalization is exemplified by our ability to manufacture a tower with over 22,000 variations, catering to 22 language areas. This unique selling proposition is a significant competitive advantage for us in the global markets.

“It has so far always continued in the 171 years that we are on the market. I am sure that we will also find solutions now.”

How important is the Tübingen site in this regard?

The significance of the Tübingen site for our company cannot be overstated. Since our establishment in 1871, we have fostered a close collaboration with various institutes of the university, and this partnership continues to thrive. The Tübingen site serves as a central hub for our research activities, enabling us to conduct cutting-edge research projects both locally and globally. While we engage in research endeavors worldwide, Tübingen remains a primary location for our research initiatives.

How do you effectively manage knowledge worldwide, including the exchange of information and expertise between your national subsidiaries?

We currently have 18 subsidiaries worldwide, each employing sales, marketing, and research personnel. Our research employees are decentralized but connected to our central research department in Tübingen. Regardless of the subsidiary’s location, our employees actively engage with doctors and patients, even participating in surgeries, to gather valuable insights and suggestions. This collaboration merges medical expertise with our technical know-how, creating synergies. Our research department in Tübingen comprises 60 members, including medical physicians, physicists, chemists, biochemists, fluidicists, plasma experts, and specialists in artificial intelligence and machine learning. They collaborate to generate ideas, evaluate results, and discuss concepts, leading to the development of innovative products.

You move with the products internationally in very different jurisdictions…

When it comes to the technological aspect, we have two considerations: what is technically feasible and what is permissible. However, in terms of the approval system, we had hoped for a unified global approach. Unfortunately, the reality is quite the opposite. Approval criteria vary from country to country, leading to complexity, increased difficulty, and higher demands. The extensive documentation required for approval significantly adds to the cost of medical devices, explaining why they may appear disproportionately expensive compared to other products like cables found at home improvement stores. The documentation encompasses validations and sterilization cycles, and in some cases, the requirements can be excessive. Many country markets are yet to find a reasonable balance in this regard.

“Whether in Singapore, in the United States or in China – our employees are very close to the doctor and the patient. Even during operations in the operating room.”

Where do you see future growth?

We have a dedicated department that looks at country markets, analyzes exactly how the development and growth strategies are, and what market opportunities we have with our products. Based on these findings, we extrapolate our market growth and do so in very different country markets. This is the only way to plan production capacities, sales activities and in the case of new products, training courses. This requires a lot of advances.

What are the plans you are pursuing?

The United States is currently a significant growth market for us, given the substantial investments in healthcare. However, the question arises: Can the U.S. sustain this level of affordability in the future? While we are experiencing growth in the U.S., we recognize the need to explore alternative markets. One such market is the People’s Republic of China, which also presents strong opportunities for us. Additionally, there are underrepresented and promising markets in Southeast Asia, such as Indonesia with its large population and untapped sales potential. Other rapidly developing countries like India and Brazil also offer growth prospects. It is advisable for companies to diversify and spread risks across multiple major markets to ensure long-term viability.

How global is your company’s recruitment process?

Our company operates in 110 country markets, serving a diverse customer base. As we pursue our internationalization strategy, we are expanding our reach even further. We aim to establish logistics hubs, redefine research locations, and tap into talent pools worldwide. For instance, in India, known for its highly educated and English-speaking workforce, we can address the skills shortage. To enhance training opportunities, our renowned Erbe Academy has trained over 40,000 individuals to date, with headquarters in Tübingen and additional locations in Singapore and Beirut. We are committed to expanding our presence with more locations in the future, ensuring our global impact continues to grow.

As a company, do you have plans to further expand internationally to remain close to your customers?

Internationally, we understand that different markets have different requirements. Our company has evolved from a technology-focused approach to one that prioritizes customer engagement and value. By listening to and learning from our customers, we ensure that our product development process meets their needs effectively. Our emphasis on customer value sets us apart, even if we may not always be the cheapest option. We believe that loyalty and sustainability are achieved through building strong customer relationships and delivering superior technology and value. This customer-centric approach is our key to success as we continue to grow and adapt in the future.

“We pursue an internationalization strategy that is not limited to sales. It applies to all parts of the company.”

Christian O. Erbe, CEO of the Tübingen-based family-owned company, emphasizes Innovation and Customer Engagement as Essential for Success. Additionally, Erbe assumes presidency of the BWIHK, strengthening his influential role in the business community.