Strength Through Flexibility

New headquarters for growing medical products manufacturer Stryker Orthopaedics can accommodate the future.

In its new 460,000-square-foot headquarters in Mahwah, N.J., Stryker Orthopaedics, the largest subsidiary of Kalamazoo, Mich.-based Stryker Corp., has built what it calls the world's largest implant wear-testing lab. There, tireless robots maneuver artificial hip and knee joints through thousands of revolutions in a quest to design ever more durable models.

Just as injured patients recover their strength through the flexibility of Stryker's artificial joints, so to does Stryker itself seek to prosper by making flexible modularity the defining characteristic of its 185,000-square-foot manufacturing floor.

"We are a growth company," explains Jeff Paulsen, Stryker Orthopaedics president. "We are continually adding new products, so we wanted to construct a facility where we could reconfigure product lines without causing great disruption."

Stryker's manufacturing floor is organized into cells staffed by 524 production workers, technical support staff, engineers, production planners and managers. The company built its entire manufacturing floor on a grid system that allows plug-and-play movement of entire cells.

"The flexibility of the facility is our single biggest advantage," says John Czajkowski, vice president of Mahwah operations. "If the technology changes on the product line or we need to implement capacity increases, we can move a cell to a different part of the plant over the weekend. The overhead grid is such that you never have to even run a new wire. You just pull the plug and then plug the cell back in wherever you've moved to."

Just as production can be rearranged within the plant, Stryker has designed the entire plant to accommodate easy expansion. On the day IndustryWeek visited in early December 2004, cement mixers were pouring the foundation for a plant expansion to accommodate a new product line.

Stryker has been a growth story for a number of years. The new headquarters is itself the product of Stryker's 1998 acquisition of Pfizer's Howmedica orthopedics division. That acquisition left Stryker with 11 buildings on two New Jersey campuses 22 miles apart.

The company made a rapid decision to combine all the manufacturing, research and office facilities into one unified headquarters and chose the 48-acre Mahwah site for its proximity to the existing workforce and its capacity for growth.

If there is a downside to such a collaborative, flexible plant floor, it's noise. Czajkowski describes an ongoing, intensive noise abatement effort.

"We try to enclose those pieces of equipment that make noise at the source," he says.

Czajkowski is doing his job well: The noise level on the manufacturing floor is remarkably low for a facility that was built for openness, flexibility and growth.

Will Stryker expand further? "We've got a full product development pipeline," says Paulsen. "As this facility continues to produce high-quality product efficiently, it will be one of our principal sources of supply in the future."

Paulsen pauses as a cement truck rolls by the window before adding, "It's likely this will not be the last addition we do."

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