Helmer Keeps It Cool in High Pressure Storage Industry

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King says temperature-sensitive medications present the biggest opportunity for the company. King says temperature-sensitive medications present the biggest opportunity for the company.

Every hospital in the U.S. and Canada—some 5,500—is using high-tech equipment manufactured at Helmer Scientific in Noblesville, say company leaders. The manufacturer makes products such as advanced refrigerators, incubators, thawing devices and cell-washing centrifuges for health care and life sciences research facilities. As the medical industry and evolving technology put increasing pressure on health care systems, Helmer Scientific says it’s helping providers keep their cool.

The company’s equipment stores and processes valuable temperature-sensitive medications, blood components and research materials. The vertically-integrated company designs, develops, manufactures and markets the equipment. Helmer Scientific President Bruce King says the company also does business in 125 countries, and 90 percent of its products are made in Noblesville.

“Any business—especially an equipment business—that wants to stay relevant has to adopt a connected strategy now,” says King. “Rather than just be a refrigerator in a blood bank, we want to be part of that integrated supply chain—think of larger companies that focus on medication management and supply chain theory around medication and blood supply.”

That’s why Helmer has increased its investment throughout the last five years in understanding opportunities in the market around connected devices, software development and Internet of Things, then developing smart products that use the emerging technologies.

For example, the company’s most recent product is a smart refrigeration device that stores blood components in operating rooms. King says blood was typically stored in an Igloo cooler in the blood bank just in case it was needed, but the new device automates the process and places the refrigerator close to the point-of-use.

“Instead of the blood being stored in a centralized blood bank, the blood’s stored in individual bins within a refrigerator and uses a sophisticated supply chain,” says King. “The refrigerator helps make the decision on what bag of blood to release for that patient. It’s very safe and, to some extent, automates the clinical decision for the operating nurse.”

Some of the company’s biggest investments—both in money and R&D—center on the storage and management of temperature-sensitive medications; King says it’s an even bigger opportunity for the company and has been the fastest-growing customer segment for a significant amount of time.

Large health systems manage their own pharmaceuticals; the process starts in a central pharmacy or compounding lab within one of the flagship hospitals. The medications are then distributed to the points-of-use, such as a nursing floor medication room or outpatient surgical center.

“These very costly and specialized medications need to be refrigerated, and all of the various points-of-use for medications create a staggering web of locations,” says King. “From a location and economic standpoint, health systems need to know where those medications are, what type of environment they’re being stored in and help employees manage them.”

That high demand for information requires integration with the supply chain, electronic health records and other health systems. King says Helmer is investing heavily in software development and more sophisticated electronics to help its products integrate with other stakeholders in the supply chain.

“It’s all part of a pretty complex web that we’re trying to help health systems sort out and be a part of,” says King. “As we look at the opportunities around the wave of IoT and connected devices, we also have to address the risks around security. Health care systems are a little gun shy in some ways, given all the ransomware attacks and other concerns; we have to help them manage those risks as well.”

King joined the Community Health Network Board of Directors to better understand the forces at work in the industry as health systems try to balance regulatory demands, quality of care and the economics of storing expensive medications.

“Helmer is excited about playing a little part in helping solve the health care system riddle,” says King. “The headlines are giant and the problems and challenges are huge for health system leaders. If we can do just a little part in supporting them and helping their employees save lives, that’s just awesome.”

King says learning how to partner with other companies has been a key to Helmer’s growth.
King says joining the Community Health Network board has helped him better understand the industry’s complexities and how technology is producing change at a breathtaking rate.
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