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Not Just Chocolate, Cheese, and Clocks Anymore: Swiss Manufacturers Apply Their Skills to Medical Components

Connectors, switches and inspection equipment are part of the region's latest gold rush

REGIONAL FOCUS

Not Just Chocolate, Cheese, and Clocks Anymore Swiss manufacturers apply their skills to medical components
Connectors, switches and inspection equipment are part of the region's latest gold rush
Corinne Litchfield
Lemo USA makes its connectors in Switzerland and offers value-added services, such as termination and assembly, at its Northern California headquarters.

Born to Swiss parents in Germany, John Sutter arrived in California in 1839 with dreams of building an agricultural empire. His dream soon turned into a nightmare as settlers rushed in to pan for gold after the first nugget was discovered on his property. Yet it could well be that Sutter's visions of prosperity took hold in his countrymen, for there are several Swiss-owned medical manufacturers that have located their U.S. headquarters in the North Bay Area.

While Switzerland is known for its watches, milk chocolate, and cheese, the country also is home to more than 500 medical device firms. Swiss workers have translated their expertise in precision timepieces into the fine handiwork required for parts such as switches, pumps, and motors. One example is Swiss-based Schurter (Santa Rosa, CA; www.schurter.com), a maker of power entry modules and metal line switches. The medical market accounts for 24% of its overall business. "Our products can be used in any type of equipment that requires detachable power," says Diane Cupples, vice president of marketing. The company has made a commitment to stay connected to the medical industry, according to Cupples. "We watch standards as they evolve and we invest heavily in developing new products that will solve our customers' application problems," she says.

Two other Swiss-based firms in the North Bay Area offer connectors to medical manufacturers. The inventor of the original push-pull, self-latching system, Lemo USA (Rohnert Park, CA; www.lemousa.com), has more than 55,000 connector models, with 14,000 possible connection types. "Our worldwide medical business is approximately 70%," says Julie Carlson, senior marcom specialist. A few miles north of Lemo is Multi-Contact-USA (Santa Rosa, CA; www.multi-contact-usa.com). "We offer safety connectors in the 1.5- and 2-mm diameter range," says Patrick Strahm, application engineer. The company anticipates continued growth in its medical market. "There's a lot of invasive equipment being developed that needs a low-current, low-voltage connector," says Strahm.

Schurter supplies power line entry and switching products to the medical device industry.

Most of the Swiss firms manufacture their products in Europe, then use the California offices for sales and distribution purposes. The design center for Diener Precision Pumps SA (Lodi, CA; www.dienerprecisionpumps.com) is based in Northern California, while the pumps are made in Switzerland. The reason for this is quite practical: the business partner with the manufacturing plant was Swiss-based, while the engineering manager was in Northern California. "For that reason, all engineering is done at the Lodi facility," says engineer Mike Gann. Lemo USA offers value-added services, such as cabling, light product assembly, and termination of its connectors, at its Rohnert Park facility.

As for the choice of Northern California, there's no definitive answer. Could it be the lush green countryside, or perhaps the vineyards, that make the area so desirable to the Swiss? Cupples probably has the best explanation. "At the time that we moved here, business in the Silicon Valley was the most renowned in the world," she says, "so it makes sense that European companies would want to be located near that activity."

Copyright ©2006 Medical Product Manufacturing News
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