Jorge Meraz: Folks, on this episode of "Crossing South," we visit a Scandinavian manufacturing plant that is helping disabled people around the world with their heartfelt work and expertise, and it's coming to you right now.
♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Jorge: All these plants that are doing production from foreign investment, American, European, from all around the world, they're building their assembly lines in Tijuana, but we visited one that has a bit of a human touch because it affects a lot of people with real disabilities where a product actually changes their lives, and it's a medical-device component facility, and we're gonna talk right now with the industrial engineer who oversees this operation, and he's standing right next to me.
Eduardo, how're you doing, my friend?
Eduardo Salcedo: Hey, nice to meet you.
Jorge: Nice to meet ya, Eduardo.
In broad terms, I explained what you guys do, but could you tell the exact terminology of what you do?
Eduardo: Okay, I'll try to summarize it to a certain extent.
Jorge: Thank you.
Eduardo: Yeah, but you were making a great point.
We do medical devices that really change and touch the life of people that had the unfortunate incident of losing a limb, whether it's an upper limb, like hands, or the legs, and besides that, we do a lot of bracing and support, orthopedic devices.
We like to think that we have a product for every single joint of the human body, whether it's one finger, to the complete spinal column so-- Jorge: So would it be an orthopedic-- Eduardo: Yes, orthopedic and biorobotics, if you wanna phrase it like that.
Jorge: Well, we've heard a lot of good things about the operation that you've got going here.
Can we go see it?
Eduardo: Yes, definitely.
Jorge: All right, let's check it out.
Stay with us, "Crossing South."
Eduardo: Okay, so when I come to Ossur, Mexico, originated in Iceland, Reykjavik is the headquarters, where the headquarters are located.
That is the capital of Iceland, of course.
We're manufacturing biorobotics, meaning leg replacements that are bionic, active type of prosthetics.
Jorge: So, like, does the electricity from the body activate it or-- Eduardo: Yeah, yeah, well, the most advanced product that the company manufactures is pretty impressive.
It's basically a mind-controlled prosthetic.
Jorge: Oh, my goodness.
How does that work?
Eduardo: So, when you lose your arm, the part of the nerve, the nerve's terminal that remain with you, we put wireless transmitters on those, and then on the gauntlet that is gonna replace your hand, we put the receptors, and then through a training-- Jorge: From here to here-- Eduardo: Yeah, from here to the gauntlet, or the arm, it's translating what you're thinking in the electric impulses.
Jorge: How long does it take someone, a patient, to learn to move that?
Eduardo: It varies from patient to patient, but you're talking, roughly speaking, from anything from six months to a year and a half for the basic functions of it, and, yet that evolves with you over your lifetime, okay?
Jorge: How far ahead is the industry of prosthetics, from the hooks to now, where are we at?
Eduardo: Light years ahead.
Jorge: Light years ahead.
Eduardo: Yeah, I like to say-- I was, when I was in my youth, part of the people that saw Hollywood movies like Schwarzenegger-- movie, and the scene in which he's fixing his arm stuck with me, like, since I was 14, 13 years old.
I never dreamed that, 30 years later, I was gonna work for a company that does something much more impressive because that was robot.
Now we're talkin' about human interaction with technology at the highest level of achievement worldwide.
Jorge: I was truly amazed about what Eduardo was telling me.
I couldn't have imagined that prosthetic technology was already so advanced.
He referenced the movie "Terminator," which is a perfect analogy, but I'm a "Star Wars" nerd, so the first thing that came into my mind was the scene where Luke Skywalker is getting a robotic arm after Darth Vader slices it off with his lightsaber.
And when I thought that this was already impressive enough, Eduardo was about to amaze me even more.
Jorge: The material, right now, of the prosthetics, is it still robotic kind of carbon fiber, or are we at the point where we have, like, human-looking silicone, or what do we have?
You're gonna see that we have the product that is the carbon fiber robotic hand, but then we have a division within our company that is called Livingskin, and it's comprised of people that used to work for the movies, for special effects, and they developed the gauntlet or the cover of your hand, taking human hair from your other arm, replacing the nails, doing exact same replica of your hand so you can be having breakfast with somebody that lost an arm or a hand, and you'd never notice because he's handling the knife, the fork, drinking--everything.
That's the level of technology or achievement in technology that biorobotics or biotechnology has achieved these days, and the interesting thing is many people don't know, and I'm talking people even from Tijuana that, in a company within Tijuana, we're developing, assembling those type of high-end or state-of-the-art techno product.
Jorge: Okay, so Eduardo had definitely piqued my curiosity.
So it was time to see these advanced products with my own eyes.
Eduardo: Right here, we're manufacturing ankles, knees, and legs.
And over here, the first time that you're gonna see a manufacturing operation of feet.
Jorge: So this goes onto a prosthetic?
It's made by the way of a very specific type of compound.
It's called EVA.
It stands for "ethylene-vinyl acetate."
It's what they use for the Crocs type of shoes or what they use for Nike or Adidas in their soles.
It's basically the-- Jorge: And you can put a shoe-- Eduardo: Exactly.
What you put in here is the carbon fiber feet that goes along with the leg replacement that we sell.
Carbon fiber feet will be easy to identify through anybody.
If I mention Oscar Pistorius or any high-level Paralympic athlete--that the one that look like a blade?
So you don't want to be walking on your daily, day-to-day-- Jorge: On the blade.
Eduardo: You put this in-- the blade in, and then you look just like the poster right there.
And she's using a skirt just to show the product, but if she was using pants-- Jorge: You couldn't see it.
Eduardo: --and walked by you-- and you will never know it's an amputee.
Jorge: It's amazing how these prosthetics make it possible for amputees to live almost perfectly normal lives.
Eduardo: And these are some examples of the carbon fiber feet that we were talkin' about, and mostly known by the general public because they've been used for years on the Paralympics applications, high-level athlete, top-notch athletes on the Paralympics use exclusively or almost exclusively, Ossur products.
These are the actual feet, the bottom, and then the foot covers, we call it the feet that you saw that are being molded over there.
They go--you slide this.
Jorge: Inside, okay.
Eduardo: But when you're doing an athletic competition or something, you use it as this.
Why the design?
Why so razor blade?
Because it provides, like, a recovery bounce.
When you flex on it, it will recover, and it pushes you.
So that's simulating what the human feet does when you walk.
And depending on which race or which type of application or contest or competition you're participating on, it's a different feet that you use.
Carbon fiber feet is basically or exclusively for people that lost a leg-- Jorge: Like, if they were level from the knee down?
Eduardo: Yes, yes.
Above the knee, you get a full leg replacement, and below the knee, it's of course, you don't need the actual knee.
Jorge: I suppose, if you have enough, that it goes down, you can add the calf and the-- Eduardo: You use what we call a liner in the portion of leg that you have that it's a sleeve that goes through the leg or what's left of it, and then you screw, basically, the prosthetic onto it, and that's the way that you support it.
Jorge: Can any of this technology be applied for people who don't have, you know, a limb missing, just to, like, run faster or something?
Eduardo: Not a dumb question.
We've been manufacturing exoskeletons.
That's for somebody that is completely fine with their limbs and everything.
They can put it on and for an application that you cannot imagine.
It's for the automotive industry with--it's an exoskeleton for the arms with bionic force, and it's because, when you work in the automotive industry, you tend to spend ten hours of your day like this because you're always doing the assembly in this portion.
Jorge: This supports your arm?
Eduardo: Yes, so, by 40 years old, then you start to have problems with your rotating cuff in the shoulder or ergonomic issues because the nature of the body is not to be like this for hours, but if you use our exoskeleton, it provides mechanical support, bionic support.
It fixes, and then you can relax your muscles and just be working with the precise muscles that you need while the rest of it is not suffering that fatigue that you were asking-- Jorge: Amazing.
Jorge: So not only amputees, but they also make people's work lighter.
We should ask them to make something for my producer, Steven, who is always lugging around that heavy camera, 12 seasons and counting.
Hang in there, Steve.
Eduardo: This is only raw material in the blue racks that you see.
Then what you see at the far end--and we're gonna get there--is the distribution center because another interesting thing to point out, this is becoming more a typical facility in Mexico and in Baja California, that we're not only doing manufacturing, but we're doing manufacturing, direct distribution to the U.S. from here, and then to the ports of around the world through the Long Beach port.
So an operation like this is now doing manufacturing, distribution, and sales directly from the Tijuana facility.
Jorge: They truly do everything, don't they?
This is cutting-edge technology, folks, but that's not all.
I was actually happy to find that all these complicated processes were actually operated by local Tijuana native workers.
Eduardo: Another thing to mention about this facility, for instance, and the company, is the diversity of processes and manufacturing technology that you're gonna find in a facility like this one.
We're cutting metal with laser beam.
We're cutting metal with water.
We're doing micro-soldering by hand, surface mount.
We're doing--printing, sales-screen printing.
Jorge: And local, you know, workers are doing this?
Eduardo: Everything here moves with Tijuana nationals or Mexico nationals.
Jorge: Wow, amazing.
Eduardo: We're gonna walk through one corner of the building in which we have the state-of-the-art CNC machines.
It's a robotic arm that works with metal to do any kind of piece or design that you can imagine.
Jorge: Kind of like a plotter that cuts?
Much more complicated because it operates in seven axes.
It's working simultaneously with three arms and doing different operations.
What I'm getting at with these, that each one of those machines run around, with tooling, a million dollar.
And we have nine of them in one corner of the building.
Jorge: Nine machines.
Eduardo: And that's not even the most interesting thing, not the capital investment or the complexity of the technology.
When the MIT has come or any well-renowned university, technological, has come to the facility, they always pull me to the side with the same question: "Eduardo, where did you get guys that can run such a complex piece of equipment?"
And I'm very proud to say, "Well, there are Tijuana 20-year-old guys that were walking through the sidewalk.
Jorge: And you trained them.
Eduardo: We trained them, and now they're running-- and you're gonna see in a minute the latest achievement.
We took two of those machines and just out of pride, we turned one around, facing each other so we can have one Tijuana native handling a million dollars with the left hand and a million dollars with the right hand.
So, one person to run two machines.
Jorge: Kind of like a Beethoven-- Eduardo: Total, two million dollars of technology.
Jorge: So Eduardo was on a roll, and he just had to show me these machines.
With all the details and complex pieces, it looked like something out of a sci-fi movie.
It was that complex.
I mean, look at it.
Eduardo: They do look like a spaceship.
They're like most advanced, state-of-the-art type of equipment of its kind.
In a minute, you're gonna see people from Tijuana running them, programming them, analyzing them, and this is one piece, one example.
What we do with them-- Jorge: Oh, wow.
That looks so cool.
Eduardo: This look like a spaceship, doesn't it?
Terminator is gonna come out of it, right?
Jorge: It starts like this, and it ends like this?
Eduardo: Yup, it's impressive.
Jorge: Is it cut with water?
Eduardo: No, this one uses mechanical blades because its robotic arms work in direction of the material.
Jorge: So the water is just-- Eduardo: The water, you're gonna see on another type of equipment.
Jorge: So what's all that, you know, pouring?
Eduardo: Oh, that's coolant.
When you're working on metal as fast as they are, it's only gonna generate a lot of heat, and you can damage the component or damage the tool.
So, you need to be using something better than water to cool it down.
It's in a special-formulation coolant that keeps it-- and the company we work with steel, aluminum, and titanium, and the hardest one of the three, of course, is titanium.
Very difficult to work with because you gotta slow down the machine.
If you go too fast on titanium, the heat that it generates will end up damaging both the components and the machine.
Eduardo: Now, these that you see here, it's a different type of machine, but similar in nature.
These are the feeders of the metal, and that's the machine that is producing the part.
You get bars of titanium, steel, and aluminum, and you fit bars, and out of these bars, the machine basically, roughly speaking, cuts it, works on it, and delivers a component like this.
Jorge: Okay, so this is the first phase, like that.
Eduardo: Yeah, it goes stage by stage, and these gonna end up being an ankle or a knee or a joint in your body.
Jorge: It has to be strong.
Eduardo: Has to be very strong.
Jorge: Now, I was already impressed, and I thought that I'd seen enough and that Eduardo couldn't impress me more than he had already had, but he was about to tell me something that just blew my mind.
Eduardo: Another thing that it could easily mean is that the GDTs or the dimensions that you need to comply with in this are a slight intolerance as nine microns that-- What is nine microns?
It's one-fourth of the thickness of a human hair.
Jorge: Oh, my goodness.
Eduardo: That's the level of precision that you can achieve on these machines.
Jorge: Who else buys a machine like this?
Eduardo: Very rarely.
Yeah, aerospace-- Jorge: 'Cause they made it for someone.
Eduardo: Yeah, they made it for medical devices, robotics but also for literally spaceship components, aircraft components, all that the precision level has to be to the point that it's a life-or-death situation if you go out of it by a micron.
So these are the only type of equipment that will give you that level of perfection.
Jorge: These machines are obviously most impressive and very advanced in the way they manufacture and process metal.
However, at the Ossur facility, they still use other techniques, like cutting metal with water, with sand.
Then there's a stamping press which cuts metal with 80 tons of pressure per whack.
I mean, look at that.
Doesn't it make you wanna put a watermelon in there?
And, lastly, the sander that sands the top layer of metal sheets to create that smooth, sleek finish.
Eduardo: This particular operation, this facility is like the perfect playground for an engineer.
You'll find any type of manufacturing technology that you can think of in a facility like this, under one roof.
We have covered molding, injection molding of plastic, metal processing, stamping, robotic.
You name it.
You have it under one roof, in one facility.
It's one of the most state-of-the-art advance in technology, facilities in Mexico.
Ossur, as a global company, is number one to number three worldwide in any segment market that-- Jorge: Really?
Eduardo: We have competitors, yes, out of Germany.
Otto Bock, for instance.
Jorge: But Ossur is the number one.
Eduardo: But Ossur is number one to number three, depending on the product.
Jorge: It's a world-renowned company.
Global distribution, based out of Reykjavik, in Iceland, but with global distribution.
We have distribution centers in South Africa, in Australia, all over Europe, in the U.S., you name it.
Jorge: And the 60% of its production is done here in Tijuana?
Eduardo: Yes, yes.
Eduardo: And more coming.
Jorge: This plant already looks like a major operation.
But this production facility in Tijuana, which already seems enormous, to me, they're still planning to expand even more.
Their TJ plant is carrying a significant part of the worldwide load.
Jorge: So you're saying you already produced 60% of the company's, you know, overall output.
You're saying you're looking to increase-- the Tijuana plant is looking to increase?
Eduardo: Yes, yes, the company has been very active in looking for opportunities to transfer technology.
Jorge: To grow.
Eduardo: If you look around, yeah, we still have a lot of capacity.
Two things: One is we have been able to create our own capacity in the operation in the facility by consolidating processes.
The engineers in Mexico, the ones that work here, are very diligent in finding opportunities to optimize not only the cycle times but also the physical space because we learned, over years, that whenever you open up space, the company, any company, will need to fill it with something because you're paying for it, every square foot.
Jorge: How often are you doing such analysis to evaluate your efficiency, your output-- Eduardo: Well, throughout the year, every year.
When you are working in a company, in a facility in Mexico like this one, your number one goal is to become such proficient in integrating new processes that your corporation goes shopping through the world for companies that I can acquire and move over to my facility in a local space, country, and just by the fact of moving it, you already have a savings of very significant level.
Jorge: Yeah, "I found, in India, some guy produces his ball bearings that'll give us a better ankle.
Let's bring it all here.
We'll buy it and bring it here."
Eduardo: But you can only do that if you have what I call a "wild card" type of facility.
So much facility like this that have demonstrated over and over again that, no matter how complex, how difficult to make the product is, you can bring it with the confidence that the guys are gonna take it, are gonna learn it-- Jorge: Implement it-- Eduardo: And not only that, optimize it.
Jorge: You know, to be able to optimize, you know, every single new department or-- Eduardo: Transactional process or physical-- Jorge: Correct.
To be able to optimize it, your processes need to be really tight.
My question is, is that something that this Icelandic company brought, or is that something that's local here?
Where does that come from?
Eduardo: A little bit of both.
When you have people-- and Mexico, in general, has been in the manufacturing business for a long time.
Eduardo: The maquiladora-- we call it the maquiladora phenomenon, has been in the northern part, particularly, of Mexico for 50 years-- Jorge: So the engineers, the Mexican engineers you hire are already used to doing that?
Eduardo: Yes, yes.
Jorge: Optimizing, reducing?
Eduardo: They know that the main part, a core part of their job is to be able to assimilate technology, go learn it, bring it on, implement it, and optimize it.
Jorge: Optimize it.
The bosses must be pretty happy about that, right?
Eduardo: Yes, but you need the right bosses.
You need bosses with a vision that are willing to let you go for it, enable you to really utilize the capabilities that you have.
So, when you see a facility like this, with the type of products that we're manufacturing, the level of complexity that we are accommodating, you can easily tell that one, these groups has earned the right and the trust to bring that on, and two, the company is open-minded to really get the benefit of making business with people that have been exposed to so many different ways of thinking, so many different ways of manufacturing, because I get asked very often, why invest in Mexico and not in the Middle East or Morocco or-- Jorge: Asia.
Eduardo: --and we say, "Well, Mexico is an easy one.
You're next to the biggest market of the world, that is, California and the U.S., and if your product is gonna be distributed in the United States, there's no better geographical location to manufacture than Mexico.
The most interesting question is "Within Mexico, why would I invest particularly in Baja California or Tijuana?"
And I have a standard answer that I truly believe is true: Nowhere in Mexico or the world you're gonna find a border with such a diversity of foreign investment.
You're stepping on a facility that is a Icelandic investment.
Across the street is a French company.
Over there is Toyota, Japanese company.
Right there, it's an American company.
New Zealand Fisher & Paykel is here.
Any country and any household name that you can think of has something to do with Baja California directly or indirectly.
That's very hard to replicate.
Jorge: That's actually amazing to hear.
It must be great to not only have a successful operation but also to be able to create a product that really makes a difference in people's lives.
Jorge: It must be nice to do, like, what we have to do to work, right?
Jorge: But we're doing something that's making a difference.
It's gotta be nice.
Eduardo: I almost have a standard speech to my staff.
I say, "We could be making-- or doing windows for Chrysler, and the right meaning and significance of what we're doing--feel pride.
But we have it in a silver plate, guys.
We're doing something that is gonna be there: the knee or the leg or the hand of somebody that lost it, and it's gonna be the happiest day of his life or her life, when you put it on, and the family of that person because one of the testimonials that we get from the users is "Do you think you're changing the life of the people that are using your product?
No, you're selling yourself short."
This is a actual testimonial of one of the users.
He said, "The day that I was fitted with my hand, the happiest persons in my room--my mom and my dad.
And I started, even, to think, 'How come they're more happy than I am?
There's gotta be something wrong with me,' because I was scared to see them like that."
And he was transmitting that message to all the people in the production floor.
Jorge: Well, Eduardo, thank you very much for the tour.
Eduardo: My pleasure.
Jorge: It was wonderful to see your operation and the pride you take in your work, you and everyone here in this place.
Eduardo: I appreciate it.
We'd like to show what we do, and definitely, it has meaning for us.
Hopefully, it has meaning for you and your audience.
Jorge: I think it will.
I think it will.
"Crossing South," folks.
Jorge: This tour has shown me that the medical device industry in Tijuana is giving so much meaning to people's lives around the world, and Eduardo is certainly an enthusiastic engineer and a force for good for his company.
We leave wondering what other experiences we'll find the next time we "Cross South."
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