Visit to Insulet: Handarbeit

I knew it before I left California. The OmniPod crew had determined they couldn’t give me a unit yet, since I’m way outside their covered region (spanning the run of the East Coast, as of this month). But we talked about some writing opportunities, and they were gracious enough to invite me for a Grand Tour of their burgeoning manufacturing facility in Bedford, MA (just 40 min. out of Boston, but apparently another country to your average Boston cabby.)

Soon we were donning the shower caps, robes, and booties necessary to protect Clean Room Clean_room_1 production, and walking around the surprisingly intimate manufacturing floor. Not more than 50 people, obviously chummy and on first-name bases, sat clicking and patting and punching highly specialized equipment designed exclusively to create the Insulet insulin pods. They were clearly proud to exhibit their work. The head engineer explained in great detail the placement and function of each tiny part — so many of which were made specifically to prevent insulin leakage or contamination of the pod unit. And off in another area, where sterilization is not required, they assemble the PDMs (Personal Diabetes Managers — the controller units), considerably fewer per week than the pods, as required.

But look! Over there — that shiny spanking new floor surrounded by what appears to be giant sheets of Reynolds Wrap. “Next week, the automated equipment will be here, and we can step up production!”

* Light Bulb! * No wonder, the gradual roll-out. No wonder, the seemingly slow response to the torrent of patient demand. They’re Still Makin ‘Em By Hand!! I’ve seen many the Software Startup fumble with “vaporware,” and slightly suspected the same sort of case here. But insulin delivery systems are fundamentally different: they’re intricate hardware (requiring expensive customized manufacturing machinery), and they’re life-sustaining medical devices. No option to blast out a Version 1.0 and just see if it flies.

The latest round of VC funding will enable Insulet to turbo-charge production at last. They hope to reach full capacity by Q1 2007, they tell me.

Meanwhile, the customer queue grows. And the Marketing team is caught in no-man’s land between fantastic demand and strictly limited supply: a love-fest for a product they can’t churn out fast enough. I hope to help them tell the stories of some of the lucky ones who’re already loving the new “tubeless insulin management system” (don’t call it a pump). And I’m crossing my proverbial fingers for a fast expansion to the West Coast.

4 Responses

  1. Johnboy
    Johnboy March 10, 2006 at 10:28 am | | Reply

    Wow, no wonder indeed! Sounds like your trip has been a blast so far, Amy!!

    I may just ask again about the OmniPod at my next endo appt as I am on the East Coast.

  2. Nick
    Nick March 10, 2006 at 1:43 pm | | Reply

    Since you have presumably seen the device, Amy, let me ask you:

    Would you prefer to wear the Omnipod or would you prefer to wear an insulin pump with a cannula stuck into your skin?

  3. AmyT
    AmyT March 10, 2006 at 3:53 pm | | Reply

    Hi Nick,
    Both devices have a cannula. But the OmniPod does away with the tubing, so the controller unit is not attached to your body. That appeals to me!

  4. Becky
    Becky March 13, 2006 at 11:17 am | | Reply

    Yay! I’m glad they are going to step up production. I am pretty sure we’re going to try this first for our son before we go the traditional route. I know they are currently not prescribing to children yet, but did they happen to mention if this Q1 2007 prediction included children? The last I heard was that they were conducting a user evaluation for kids that should take at least 6 months. I hate to keep bothering the reps because I know they are ovewhelmed. I feel like the kid in the backseat reoeating “Are we there yet?”

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