As the frenzy of flag waving which swept Britain during the London 2012 Olympiad dissipates the penny counting starts for its much vaunted economic legacy. TM talks to Stephen Blatchford, CEO of prosthetics manufacturer Chas A Blatchford & Sons about how the summer of sport helped put a new spring in its step.
TM: The London Paralympics brought the use of advanced prosthetics directly into the public eye and celebrated the achievements they support. Did Blatchford benefit from this at all?
Yes. While none of the athletes actually used our prosthetics in their events, eight are our patients in terms of the prosthetics they use every day. Our close involvement in supporting these athletes has really inspired the workforce here and we bought forty tickets, which we distributed through a raffle draw, so that staff could attend.
TM: But there was no direct publicity for Blatchford’s UK-manufactured prosthetics?
On the contrary, we were able to showcase a new product during the Olympic torch relay and at the Opening Ceremony for the Paralympics. The prosthetic leg marks our first big venture into the K4 amputee category for advanced sports prosthetics. BBC reporter Stuart Hughes – who lost his leg below the knee in Iraq in 2003 – modelled the leg for us during the relay and Robbie Barrett, a bronze medal winner at the Seoul Paralympics wore it in the Opening ceremony.
For a video explaining how the protoype for Blatchford’s new sprinting prosthesis was made click here.
TM: How important will this new product be to Blatchford?
At the moment our core competency lies in products for the K3 amputee market. Our products have to support this group – amputees who need to be able to go about their ‘normal’ lives confidently and with flexibility. At the top end of this product range we have developed prosthetics which allow the wearer to jog comfortably, but we are now targeting a break into the K4 market for specialist sports applications. This part of an overall company target to grow our global market share to 7% by 2015. We want to become as recognisable in the K4 market as key competitors like the Germany company Ottobrock.
TM: You were appointed an Industry Champion for the Make it in Great Britain Campaign, the partial remit of which is to ensure UK manufacturing benefits from the economic legacy of the London 2012 Olympics as much as possible. How successful do you think this campaign has been so far?
I agreed to support Make it in Great Britain because I approved of its awareness raising objectives. Blatchford is fairly well known in the prosthetics world. But outside of it we fade into obscurity. This is a great loss, because the stories that individuals within this industry can tell are incredible and have a real power to inspire.
The Make it in Great Britain campaign lost some steam just before the Olympics but it has done a reasonable job of highlighting the strength of British industry to the general public and the international business community throughout the Games. The exhibition hosted at the Science Museum in London, for instance, was valuable. It is essential now that we maintain that momentum and as a Champion I hope I will be able to help find ways of doing that.
Composing competitive advantage
I the 1980s Chas A Blatchford & Sons was one of the first manufacturers of prosthetic limbs to adopt carbon fibre composite materials being developed by aerospace companies for application in its products.
Since then, the use of composites by its competitors has become commonplace and to keep refining its competitive edge Blatchford has had to keep pushing forward its knowledge of how manufacturing method, design and machining impacts on the performance and aesthetic appearance of composite materials. It is now experimenting with the introduction of Kevlar into products previously produced in pure carbon fibre in order to reduce brittleness.
While the skills and experience required to manipulate composites for the manufacture of prosthetics are specialist in some ways, Blatchford CEO, Stephen Blatchford says certain core competencies remain and that bringing in knowledge from other industries where composite are commonly used can still be enlightening. “We recently employed a composites specialist on our design team who used to work for McLaren,” he says. “While he had a lot to learn about the industry, his broader knowledge of composite materials and their associated manufacturing techniques has added a real asset to our team.”
Read more about the advances being made in composite manufacturing technologies in TM’s October edition.