Interview with P.J. Singh, Managing Director of Tynor Orthotics, Punjab, India
Manufacturers that want to succeed in bringing medical devices to emerging markets need to design high-quality products that also are affordable says, says P.J. Singh, managing director of Tynor Orthotics, the leading manufacturer in India of orthotics, such as immobilizers, supports, and splits, and a major exporter. In an interview with IFC, Singh talks about how he decided to make orthotics, what “lean management” taught him about efficiencies, and the advice he’d give others looking to enter the medical device market.
Why did you decide to start a business manufacturing orthopedic products?
I graduated from college knowing I wanted to start a business. My master’s degree was in pharma sciences, so I knew the product I manufactured would be a medical device. I looked into the products that India was importing and was surprised at how long the list was. I thought the best way to narrow down my options was to look at what was being sold through pharmaceutical retailers. This was 30 years ago when there was no internet, so I traveled around the country and interviewed about 800 retailers across eight cities. I learned that in the orthopedic market, products made in India may have been low-cost, but they were also low quality. On the other hand, the imported products were so expensive that not many people in India could afford them. Since demand for orthopedic products wasn’t met, I knew I could start small and scale up over time.
You’ve written that after a few years, you realized you couldn’t continue outsourcing production if you wanted to stay competitive. How hard is it for a business to make that transition to manufacturing its own products?
Manufacturing orthopedics has several challenges. First, it is a very labor-intensive industry. Second, there is a lot of diversity within the manufacturing process: diverse technologies and diverse machinery require diverse skills. Another challenge is securing the 2,000 to 2,500 different raw materials needed to make a complete range of products. There are regulatory requirements to contend with since the products are medical and potentially lifesaving. When we started Tynor, we were ignorant of all these challenges.
The transition to manufacturing our products was slow. When I reflect on my past, I ask myself why it took so long to grow the company, and the reason is that I had to learn how to develop all the technological requirements in-house, product by product. Business leaders need to take their time and fix one bottleneck at a time because within one manufacturing facility—depending on the number of products—there are essentially many mini-factories. We experienced small achievements every day, and that kept us motivated.
In the early 2000s, you adopted the “Lean Management” process, which focuses on improving efficiencies in the production process. What attracted you to this approach?
We needed strategies to improve productivity without jeopardizing quality. Given the total market size and revenue potential, becoming more efficient was necessary to boost profits. Lean Management checked all the boxes, and after a year of utilizing the methodologies, we were seeing results. Our products became higher quality, we reduced waste, and our costs went down. Tynor employees were energized to be part of these results.
Part of Lean Management is the concept of continuous improvement. How did you apply this?
The Lean Management system is a methodical, gradual approach that depends on every employee—from the top down—making a commitment to evaluate and improve manufacturing processes continuously. Once Lean tools have been applied to every step of the production cycle and measured for effectiveness, the steps are meant to be repeated. For example, low-cost automation is one of the 20 Lean tools. This step helps us understand where to leverage automation to improve efficiencies. Essentially, automation separates intelligent work from unintelligent work. So, you only automate the unintelligent tasks, the ones that have a single obvious answer. As technology improves, machines will continue to take over many production tasks, and people can be shifted to higher-value jobs. It is helpful to think of process improvements as unending.
How have you leveraged advances in technology to run a more efficient company?
Thanks to technological advances in automation, we have decreased the number of people needed to run production and increased the number of employees focused on research and development. Second, we have instituted a policy where our business division leaders have unlimited funds to invest in technology, with a rider that we should see a return on investment within two to three years, depending on the type of solution. If it is related to production or our machinery, the expectation is two years, and for everything else is three. As a result, our managers know that technology is always available to boost job performance.
How important are environmentally friendly production processes, and where have you focused your attention?
We prioritize all Environmental, Social, and Governance practices. Specific to the environment, we focus on waste reduction, waste management, and waste disposal. We also recycle water through a treatment plant so it can be reused, and we generate most of our power needs from our rooftop solar panels. We also use energy-efficient motors and transfer heat generated from one process to another that requires heat. We are always open to new ways of doing things and encourage our employees to present their ideas for more environmentally friendly ways of doing their jobs. Our goal is to consume less of everything and to be kinder to the environment.
What are the three things manufacturers of medical devices need to keep in mind to run a successful business?
First, being successful at manufacturing medical devices is dependent on the continuous deployment of technology to boost production efficiencies and improve product quality. Second, I advocate for research and development, or an R&D-oriented mindset. One has to keep a close eye on the latest developments in whatever you are manufacturing. R&D should also collaborate with healthcare delivery systems, including hospitals and doctors. One can’t function successfully in isolation. Third, thinking ethically, from leadership down, matters. I don’t believe in shortcuts or overemphasizing the financials because the margins in this field are very good. When I say ethical, this means to be honorable to customers, your doctors, your employers, investors, your communities, and even your country. If I can add a fourth, affordability is essential when manufacturing medical devices for emerging markets. In India, for instance, many people live below the poverty line, so it is our responsibility to deliver affordable products.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Published in November 2022
Dr. Pushvinder Jit Singh is the managing director of Tynor Orthotics and a first-generation entrepreneur. He has a Master of Science in Pharmacy from Punjab University, Chandigarh. Singh obtained his doctoral degree from European Continental University, Delaware, USA, for his work in Lean Management. Today, Tynor is the leading brand in India for orthopedic appliances and fracture aids, with exports to 50 countries and an enterprise value of half a billion USD. Tynor employs 1,800 people, mainly underprivileged women.