Smith & Nephew — running smoothly

Going from a start-up company via mergers to one of the leading manufacturers of artificial joints – that is the history of medical technology company Smith & Nephew in the canton of Aargau. As part of the global concern, the company supplies artificial joints around the world.

People are growing ever older and feel fit for ever longer. But sometimes the body is not quite up to the task and needs help, often in the form of an artificial joint. Thanks to increasingly elaborate products and improved operation techniques, interventions of this type are now a matter of course. One of the largest providers on the market is Smith & Nephew Orthopedics based in the city of Aarau.

Markus Glaeske, Director of Production, has been with the company for 21 years and experienced the growth of the start-up company into an important part of a global concern.

Mr Glaeske, what exactly is produced at your plant in Aarau?
We produce hip, knee and shoulder joints. The development and research department for this division is also located here in Aarau. We employ a total of 257 people.

Why is the plant located in Aarau?
We are based at Schachen on the estate of former measuring instruments manufacturer Kern, where I also completed my own apprenticeship. Various companies which can benefit from each other are located here. We were also aware that many qualified employees can be found in Aarau because of the tradition of the Kern company.

You also need graduates for R&D. What is the situation with regard to their recruitment?
The proximity of the ETH in Zurich and the Universities of Applied Sciences in the region is a great advantage in that respect. However, I consider Switzerland’s vocational training system to be much more important. As a result of vocational apprenticeships and the ease of access to the Universities of Applied Sciences, Switzerland has highly qualified workers. That is also why we are the envy of the world.

Are you able to find your suppliers in the region as well?
Yes, we even have companies with which we collaborate on this industrial estate. Similar companies at the same location stimulate each other and represent an advantage. The Aarau region is perfect for us for this reason. We also should not forget that the birthplace of industrially manufactured medical technology products was in Switzerland. That continues to have an effect.

What is the greatest trump card of the Aarau location within the global concern?
Our productivity and flexibility. We are one of the most productive locations and strive to improve on a daily basis, thereby also ensuring that we are able to invest. We are proof of the fact that production in Switzerland has a future and that we can compete with competitors from low-wage countries. We simply have to be slightly cleverer. And that is possible because the high degree of automation, which we have and which many envy, is only achievable with highly qualified employees.

What is your company’s secret of success?
That we never stand still. The history of my apprenticeship with the Kern company shaped me. When I started there, my colleagues told me that our instruments were aboard on the moon missions. Now that traditional company no longer exists. You must never stand still, never rest on your laurels, always be on the look-out for better solutions.

Josef Küffner
Project Manager Aargau Services Economic Promotion
Department of Economy and Interior
Rain 53, CH-5001 Aarau

Tel: +41 62 835 24 40
Fax: +41 62 835 24 19