Lir-Med has big ambitions. The Craigavon company may only have half a dozen staff now, but it intends to employ 50 workers within three years. By this time, according to its business plan, its initial £1m turnover will have jumped at least five-fold.
These aspirations are backed by the knowledge that the year-old company has launched into one of the fastest-expanding markets of all – medical devices. Whatever the rest of the economy does, demand for medical equipment remains strong. As the population lives longer, more has to be spent on healthcare.
The firm manufactures medical guidewires – the thin material that surgeons put through our bodies’ tubes for observation and to carry-out non-invasive surgery. It is used to insert catheters and stents, as well as to undertake cardiovascular surgery.
Demand for these products is global. Lir-Med is currently in negotiation with buyers in Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, India and Iran.
Business director Geoff Baird says that he and fellow director Diarmuid McAlinden spent two years planning the business before launching it, building on the 20 years that McAlinden has spent in the medical guidewire sector.
“The main opportunity in the medical sector is the continued growth and much more stability of demand than in other industries,” says Baird. “Minimally invasive surgery is what everyone is looking for. It’s a lot easier and cheaper and recovery is much quicker.”
Despite the recession, Lir-Med has won crucial investment backing from Ulster Bank and Invest Northern Ireland. “Invest NI put in a substantial amount of money, some of it for capital equipment and some for job creation,” says Baird. INI also provided important support with market research and in assisting the firm to attend one of the world’s largest medical devices trade show, in Dusseldorf last year, which led to a year’s orders.
At the heart of Lir-Med’s approach is innovation, taking a distinctive approach to manufacture. It has designed and developed its own machinery, giving it much more flexibility in how it manufactures to clients’ specification. “We are building 90% of our own equipment from scratch,” says Geoff.
“We are innovating in our production techniques,” he adds. “Traditional guidewire manufacture is quite labour intensive. Diarmuid has spent years learning how to manufacture using less labour intensive methods. And our machinery is much less wasteful than traditional methods.”
With their unique manufacturing methods and purpose-built premises, Lir-Med can adapt to clients’ demands quickly, changing specification without the need for new machinery – as is required with the sector’s traditional manufacturing systems. “We can very quickly change our equipment to produce other styles for customers,” says Baird.
But the firm is not content to expand at a gentle pace – it is involved closely with the University of Ulster on further product development. “There are a number of new guidewire styles that we are working on, but that will take some time,” says Baird. If achievement follows ambition, then this is a company to watch carefully.