In which industry do you operate?
We are a small company, operating in three industries. Our core business is wireless lighting. We believe that wireless lighting provides the ultimate freedom for designers and manufacturers. We develop, manufacture and commercialize our patented wireless LED lighting solutions. In addition, with our label SignDeal we have specialized in the supply of (illuminated) facade advertising.
Last but not least, we have an engineering branch, where we develop lighting, electronics and software on behalf of third parties. We notice that our engineering qualities are becoming increasingly appreciated by other parties. For example, at the start of the Corona crisis, we developed a mechanical open source respirator in record time, which we launched under the labels freebreathing.org and Stogger Medical.
How did you come up with the idea of developing a respiratory assistant?
At the beginning of the Corona crisis, there was an imminent expected shortage of respiratory equipment. As a company, we figured out that it was not difficult to develop a ventilator. In order to avoid unnecessary deaths, we wanted to design a mechanical ventilator that could be developed and produced quickly. A device that is fundamentally cheap and can save many lives. Not only in the Netherlands, but worldwide.
At the time, we happened to be talking to the Radboud University Medical Centre in Nijmegen about a lighting project. In consultation with the doctors at Radboud Hospital, we subsequently determined a package of requirements for the development of a ventilator. From day one we wanted to develop the device open source, because of our goal to make it available worldwide. In March we launched the website https://freebreathing.org/, where you can download the files of the developed ventilator. This has attracted a lot of media attention and has brought us into contact with hospitals and medical companies all over the world. The conclusion at the time was that it is a very good concept, but that the machine had to be certified. Only then would hospitals around the world be able to purchase such a medical device.
Certification is a complex procedure. How did you solve that?
Because of the complex nature of the project, we started working together with the NTS Group in Eindhoven. Together we have further developed the ventilation assistant and lifted the machine to a higher level, so that it could be medically certified. We call this machine the FRD-e.
The device has now been modified: in the open source version we used a lot of cheap plastic parts, but the FRD-e consists largely of stainless-steel parts and a special medically certified coating has been used on the body. This has made the FRD-e much stronger and more solid. Canon Production Printing in Venlo, our production partner, has offered to mass produce the machine when sales volumes become high. This is a good example of how, as a small company, you can produce an innovative product in a short period of time through collaboration with large parties.
In order to test the machine, we have sold 35 sample devices to interested customers all over the world. We are now waiting for a large order, so that we can actually start mass production. There is not really a profit motive. We are trying to put the breathing machine on the market for a low price. There are already many breathing machines on the market, but ours focuses on the most essential functionality. The price of our product is around € 2,000 but depends on the quantities purchased. If you look at the medical market, that’s a very reasonable amount. Usually, the price of a ventilator starts at € 10,000.
Your company is located in Panningen. Is that a deliberate choice?
We all live in Helden-Panningen. Because we are still a startup, we have decided to keep costs to a minimum and start in an existing warehouse owned by my colleague in Panningen, which is located on the industrial park. We are pleased that we do not have to drive far to work every day.
Are you able to find the right employees in the region?
As the matter of fact, many qualified people live in this region. They often work in Eindhoven. We ourselves graduated in engineering at the Fontys in Venlo (HTS mechatronics and mechanical engineering) and in business administration in Rotterdam. The question is what the region can offer people to come and work here. For example, we have a colleague from Eindhoven who comes to work here.
Our company is not yet as big that we need a large number of employees. The core of our team consists of four people and we have four students who work here on an on-demand basis. This way we can do a lot of assembly work ourselves. For the installation of facade advertisements, we work together with freelancers. Working this way, we can achieve a lot with a small team.