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2017 IW Best Plants Winner: Adversity Jolts Boston Scientific Plant to Take Technology Leadership Mantle

How Arden Hills Operations fuses culture, technology and agile leadership to become a premier medical components manufacturer.

What happens when a manufacturing facility faces an “identity crisis”? That’s how one leader described the impact of a decision by Boston Scientific in 2008 to move finished goods manufacturing from its Arden Hills Operations to Ireland. Suddenly, the plant lost 50% of its volume and had a greatly reduced product portfolio.

In this case, leadership decided on a strategy of becoming a preferred provider of sub assemblies and components for Boston Scientific’s international network of plants. Arden Hills would take on challenging technology issues associated with new products and hone its processes through the application of advanced automation and lean manufacturing.

But plant leaders understood the workforce had been rattled by the recent changes. It needed a strategy – really a rallying cry – to establish a culture that would support a very agile manufacturing environment producing high-quality components for critical medical devices such as pacemakers and implantable defibrillators.

Boston Scientific Arden Hills Operations

Arden Hills, Minn.

Employees: 1,100 in operations, non-union

Total Square Footage: 1.1 million

Primary product/market: Rhythm management medical devices

Start-up date: 1972

Achievements: Quality incidents reduced 29% while production volume increased 160%; 26% reduction in days of inventory on hand; 14% average annual material reduction; 23% average annual reduction in scrap; 26% decrease in OSHA lost-time incidence rate

Arden Hills leaders adopted the motto “Great People, Winning Culture” to embody the need for a highly adaptable workforce that would produce innovative medical devices and help Boston Scientific succeed in a highly competitive market. They began practices ranging from breaking down silos and sharing best practices to creating more welcoming common spaces where employees could relax and see visual messages about plant goals, achievements and community activities.

The strategy has paid off handsomely. Ten years ago, the plant supported one Boston Scientific division; now it supports six. While 83% of the plants revenue comes from cardiac rhythm management (CRM) products, this diversification reduces operational risk to the plant and opens it to opportunities for growth. Despite moving a major product line out of the plant in 2017, it still succeeded in growing its business by more than 10%. Since 2014, the facility has launched 110 new products and supported five acquisitions. Jeff Neuenfeldt, vice president of operations at Arden Hills, said these acquisitions often have called on the plant to send leaders to help with integrating processes or evaluating technologies

“We’ve really learned to embrace agility and take advantage of it,” Neuenfeldt stressed, defining the issue as, “At a moment’s call, can we adjust what we are doing to help someone else?”

Arden Hills’ 1,100 production employees operate a wide variety of processes to produce components, including metals processing, molding, coatings, electronic assembly, sterilization and much more. The facility produces 28 million units per year.

Batteries for pacemakers and other devices are a key technology at Arden Hills. The plant produces six battery models and has four more under development. As battery models reach their end of life, product equipment is removed and space freed up for new model production. Manufacturing is highly automated and quality testing is stringent. Each battery undergoes rigorous electrical testing, noted Peter Orne, batteries production manager, to ensure performance over the intended life.

Arden Hills officials note that since 2014, the plant’s products have only resulted in one “field action,” where a manufacturing issue requires outreach to the FDA, doctors or others about a concern with a component.

Each year since 2014, Boston Scientific’s Arden Hills Operations has faced a goal of a 6% reduction in costs. But this Minnesota facility has delivered an average improvement of 14.7% in those years, equivalent to a $16 million increase in profitability for the business.

Arden Hills works hard to make sure that employees stay connected to their ultimate customers -- patients. Each year, the facility hosts Everyone Makes an Impact, a week-long series of plant and community events for employees and their families that includes inviting patients and their families to the facility to share their stories with the people who made the devices they depend on. 

“I firmly believe the culture is a competitive strength for us,” said Mike Alcott, production director at Arden Hills.

Download an application for the 2018 IW Best Plants Awards competition.

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