We are going for very high-standard future products, whether in the look and feel, software usage, etc. by initiating right partnerships & in-house R&D, shares Sunil Khurana, CEO & MD, BPL Medical Technologies exclusively with Kusum Kumari of Elets News Network (ENN)
Please provide an overview of what measures are being undertaken by BPL Medical Technologies to diversify into new products and widen its geographical footprint.
BPL as a brand has been present in the medical devices space for close to 50 years. In August 2013, BPL Ltd decided to hive off this business to form a new entity BPL Medical Technologies Pvt Ltd (BPL Medical). This was the time when a new management team from across the industry was brought to give a direction and focus to this business.
Despite having one of the largest and uniformly spread distribution network and a large direct sales team, our revenues were flat. Therefore, we did a lot of internal brainstorming to analyse the products gaps and brought many new products in the existing segments and have also created new product segments over the past 3 years.
Imaging is one of the newly added segments where we partnered with a Korean company to bring co-branded ultrasound products. These machines are technically superior to a lot of products available in the market in the same price range. We have also entered in X-ray and C-arm products that are designed, conceptualised and manufactured in-house. These products are manufactured at our ISO 13485 certified facility located in Palakkad, Kerala.
During the last 3 years, addressing the gaps in our product portfolio has been the key focus area for us. I believe this will always be a focus area to keep an eye on technological advancements and bring products suitable for the Indian market. This is what keeps our 35-member research & development (R&D) team busy all the time.
How has the acquisition of the United Kingdom (UK) based Penlon assisted BPL Medical in terms of diversification of products and R&D? How far have you succeeded in leveraging their R&D facilities and products for creating world- class products?
Penlon is a 73-year-old globally reputed brand in the area of critical care with presence in 96 countries. In order to strengthen our presence in critical care segment, we decided to acquire Penlon. This acquisition provides us a great platform to build ourselves as a strong brand in critical care segment. We are hiring a few members to Penlon R&D which is continuously working on building anaesthesia machines and vapourisers. In the next 2 to 3 years, we expect a lot of new products from Penlon, which should complete the entire spectrum of products from low- end to high-end machines. We believe this is a great opportunity for Penlon to focus on markets, such as India and other developing countries, where they can leverage BPL Medicals experience to create a big impact in the marketplace.
Which are the key segments where you would like to invest? Please walk us through the key products launched by BPL Medical.
I started my career with X-ray machines and therefore have a natural passion for X-ray and C-arm portfolio. That said, there is an immense opportunity for these products available today due to limitedfocus from multinational companies (MNCs) in this area. This segment is currently fragmented by a few small players that have limitation to expand. We are focusing on this segment to manufacture quality equipment which would be used in operation theatres for surgical procedures.We have already started launching some of these products which have long development time due to proper regulatory approvals. Some of our products arecurrently undergoing approvals from the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). We expect 5 models to come out in the market by the end of this year, which would go up to 25 models during the course of next 2 to 3 years. These are high-quality future-ready products be it aesthetics, ease of use or overall quality. We are happy with the initial customer response that we are receiving and are confident to make a good impact in the market.
We have launched an interesting product in the m-health space called Lifephone Plus. This is a 12-channel mobile electrocardiography (ECG) device which weighs about 70 grams. It is a handheld wireless ECG device which acquires the patient data and transfers it to a mobile device using Bluetooth. This data is then uploaded to the patients cloud server through which the doctor is able to access this data and provide consultation to his or her patient without having the patient to visit the centre every time. About 50 years back, we were one of the first manufacturers of ECGmachines in India. It would be difficult to find a physician even today who would not have been associated with BPL ECG machines during his or her career. We have put all this experience of developing ECG machines into this device and have developed this product together in partnership with a technology major. This is truly an innovation to my mind and is a product which is ahead of time. We have won many prestigious awards recognising this product.
Other than this, we continue to work on other products and are trying to upgrade their features in line with technology advancements. In our cardiology segment, we have added new ECG machines and defibrillators with improved features and connectivity. In our patient monitoring segment, we have addressed the needs of our customers by offering them multiple variants according to their needs. We have also added new features in our syringe and infusion pumps keeping our end users in mind. We try to always stay close to our customers to understand their needs.
Overall, we develop affordable products keeping the Indian market in mind. This approach has helped us increase our footprint in the Indian healthcare business. Our products touch human lives and a robust quality management system remains the priority of the management. Most of our products that we are marketing in India and outside India are CE certified. Therefore, there is no compromise on patient safety and quality of these products.
Despite increased penetration of smartphones in the Indian market, m-health services have not succeeded to a large extent. Please provide details.
Unless we have more and more people coming under the fold of m-health, this concept cannot succeed. For such products, we need to create awareness. If the Government of Indiareally wants to be benefitted from such products, then each healthcare personnel must have access to such a product. We are now following the advocacy approach by showcasing our products in all kinds of conferences, big institutes and corporate chain of hospitals. The feedback has been so far really good. Any new concept takes time for adoption, particularly in the Indian market.
Post successful global partnerships, are you willing to partner with start-ups within the Indian market?
Absolutely, if the products are meaningful and fit into our basket, we are always ready to incubate our partners. However, we would first like to test them in our own stringent manner in-house to check whether they fulfill our requirements. We are very open to such partnerships.
How strong and efficient is the after-sales service of BPL Medical in India and across the world? What new measures have been undertaken to make it timelier and hassle free?
After-sales service is a key differentiator in our line of business as we touch human lives. Due to my background of heading the service business in my previous organisation, I understand how critical after-sales service is. We have brought one of the finest people from the industry to BPL Medical to head our after-sales service. We have invested and will continue to invest heavily in training our team and our distributors on the after-sales service of our products. In fact, Penlon has trained this year so far three batches on after-sales service of their products. We are also investing in maintaining the required inventory of spare parts and using best logistics services to make sure these parts are available at the site in no time when a machine is down.
As any machine can fail, we needto ensure to minimise the downtime of these machines so that the patient does not suffer. So far these trends are encouraging, but we continue to work in this area to increase our customer satisfaction. As an industry person, I know customer relationship does not end at sales but you need to ensure constant service support to get repeat business. This is a continuous journey and we want to consistently improve and upgrade our scale to deliver that.
What are the revenue targets for BPL Medical Technologies in the coming years?
We started this journey 3 years back and have witnessed a high compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of close to 40 per cent. We aim to become `1,000 crore company by 2020. I strongly believe that revenues are a by-product of various aspects and working towards fulfilling these parameters be it products, geography expansion, improving distribution and service network. Our first approach is to keep all our customers very happy. From 3 years from now, we aspire to be the best medical device manufacturing Indian company globally. In the products where BPL Medical operates, we want that our customers should see us as one of the finest choices for them.
Recently, the Government of India withdrew the Drugs and Cosmetics (Amendment)Bill, 2013 and underlined the need to frame separate rules to regulate medical devices under the existing Act the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. What is your opinion on the entire debate?
I was until early this year the chairman of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in the medical devices side. It is important to have a governing body in place to govern the medical device segment. I am happy that now pharma, which is a big industry, and its ministry is overseeing this medical device segment. The 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in medical devices has opened doors to the MNCs across the world lacking adequate resources and vehicles to access the Indian market. As there is a lot of confusion on difference between implantable devices and other devices, I am sure the recent decision of the Government of India will be very helpful. Medical machines need to be kept outside of other devices. With rules and regulations, more and more participation of technology is needed as we progress, such as a single window clearance and other reforms. It will undoubtedly strengthen the Indian healthcare ecosystem. It will not be the first and the last initiative towards change. What comes will become the good reference point, followed by amendments.