Dedication to high-quality manufacturing practices and unwavering customer service has been a hallmark of neonatal medical device maker Atom Medical’s business practices
While many Japanese companies in the healthcare sector are concerned with taking care of Japan’s ever-growing elderly population, Atom Medical cares for the nation’s newborns, and has been at the forefront of perinatal and neonatal care for almost 80 years.
The company introduced the first modern infant incubator to Japan back in the 1950s, and since then has gone onto to become a global leader in its field, with its state-of-the-art products delivered to more than 75 countries across the world, including the United States. Aside from infant incubators, Atom Medical’s high-quality product range includes infant warmers (of which it is the world’s third largest provider), therapeutic and respiratory equipment, obstetrics and gynecological devices, and nursing equipment.
With its headquarters in Tokyo, the company develops and distributes its products worldwide through its business subsidiaries in The Philippines, Europe and the U.S., where it opened its wholly-owned subsidiary Atom Medical U.S.A. in Wexford, Pennsylvania in 2014.
Thanks to companies like Atom Medical, Japan has the world’s most sophisticated neonatal care facilities, which is why the country is ranked first in the world with the lowest infant mortality rate of 2.4 per 1,000 live births, followed by Sweden and Finland with infant mortality rates of 2.5 and 2.6 deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Atom Medical’s overarching mission is to replicate the success of Japanese neonatal care across the world, particularly in developing countries where infant mortality rates are still extremely high.
“Our ultimate goal is to reduce infant mortality around the world to the levels that we have here in Japan,” says company President and CEO, Ichiro Matsubara. “I believe that everyone in this company is committed to achieving that goal. Having a management that is based on the philosophy of saving lives says a lot about our company. It’s something that came from my grandfather, which we are passing to the next generations – the happiness of saving lives.”
In the field of adult healthcare, Japan has been losing ground to the likes of the U.S. and Europe, according to Mr. Matsubara, with Japan itself still depending heavily on imports of medical devices, especially for sophisticated medical technologies (The U.S. accounts for 23% of medical device imports to Japan).
“People look for medical equipment from the U.S. and Europe because they have a solid reputation and that is what companies and hospitals want to buy,” he says. “When it comes to manufacturing Japan is great, but when companies take a step forward and need to really understand the market we aren’t that good. We still need to learn more to have a competitive edge and revert this import situation.
“But on the other hand, in the neonatal segment, Japan ranks in the top of the field and that works very much in our favor.”
But in an industry where competition is fierce, how does a smaller company like Atom Medical compete with the global giants? Mr. Matsubara believes that the company’s competitive advantage is its attention to detail and close personal relationship with its clients. This attention to detail and service is a value associated with many Japanese firms, and is known as omotenashi.
“We have been in the business for almost 80 years now and we have developed a number of technologies that have been growing with us over the years. Our focus has always been to provide high quality to our customers. We develop our products by involving the customer needs as a priority,” he explains.
“Our competitive advantage is that we have learned to compete with the giants in the industry and we are still able to speak directly with doctors; while big companies can’t do that. We can learn exactly what the specific need is and we can work on a real one-to-one basis. I feel that this is very much appreciated by our clients and gives us a strong advantage to have these personal ties with them. We do special collaborations with doctors, joint research, study sessions and seminars to lower mortality rates and improve the lives of newborns.”
Monozukuri is another value associated with highly reputable Japanese manufacturers like Atom Medical. It is an approach to manufacturing that emphasizes high-quality and optimization, and is the reason there is so much weight behind ‘Made in Japan’ tag across the world.
“For us, everything has to be precise and exact,” adds Mr. Matsubara. “We apply that sense of responsibility to any product. We care about its perfection by putting everything that we have into it. In other countries, you may see a defect rate of 3 percent, which is reasonable, but in Japan, we aim for zero percent because we work for perfection. We export our products and what we hear from our distributors is that the ‘Made in Japan’ brand really counts; it is associated with high quality.”