Innovation starts by asking ‘how can we make a difference?’

4 minute(s) to read

Haelvoet is renowned for its innovative range of healthcare furniture including their popular range of Domus® chairs which are found in rest homes and hospitals all over New Zealand.

They offer the perfect balance of comfort, function and design, along with superior infection control and the ability to recline into a zero-gravity position for optimal pressure relief. Residents and patients love the thoughtful features and attractive colours of the Haelvoet range.

Three generations of the Haelvoet family have run the Belgium-based company since 1931 and their commitment to innovation grows stronger every year.

“We make rather complex but easy to use products,” explains CEO Vincent Haelvoet. “We try to embed innovation within our corporation but innovation is not just about developing new things. It’s about improving our products and processes. We must be innovative in our sales, in our marketing, in our R&D department and on the production floor. So innovation for me, it’s very wide. It has to be something that is sustained by everybody within the company.”

Vincent admits it’s a full-time job trying to create and sustain an innovative culture. “Everybody loves change, but nobody likes to change. Everybody prefers to do things the same way tomorrow as they did yesterday because it’s the easiest way without any friction. But if you don’t try to be different tomorrow, that’s when you lose your competitive advantage.”

Innovation is now firmly part of Haelvoet’s DNA and is led from the top down by management. A team of around 10 people are devoted to R&D, spread across the company’s two production facilities in Belgium and Romania.

Vincent says micro innovations are a constant, ongoing process whereby products evolve and improve based on feedback received from the market. “These are small, important changes where bit-by-bit we make a product like the Domus® chair better. That accounts for about 80 per cent of our innovation efforts.

“But then we have macro innovations which are more radical, and we generate those ideas ourselves. They take much more time to develop, cost a lot more and are the kind of thing we only do once every few years.

Haelvoet often works in cooperation with partners like universities, other manufacturers or suppliers to create an ecosystem to bring knowledge together from different parties. Vincent says that leads to better solutions and makes new products more difficult to copy.

 “Macro innovative ideas grow by looking to the world from a distance and saying, ‘how can I make a difference?’ And if you think that you have found something, go for it.  But of course if you develop 10 macro innovative ideas, perhaps only one or two will survive. So it’s important to know very fast during your development stage if you’re on the right track, so you really have to monitor the market constantly and get as close to the market as possible to listen to the needs on the floor.”

One of the biggest problems facing the healthcare industry today is a world-wide labour shortage. Figuring out how to look after more patients with less nurses is something Haelvoet is concentrating on at present. Watch this space!

Today the company manufactures its beds, beside tables and medical relax chairs on a platform base, allowing them to easily add variations or combine different features to meet customers’ requests. But that versatility also has a downside too. “One change can have quite some influence on other parts of the product. You have to pay attention to what you’re doing during the innovation process.”

Vincent has an ‘ideas map’ where he parks thoughts, comments, challenges and requests about certain products or issues until the time is right to address them. “Some ideas stay there for years because you can’t solve every problem immediately. Sometimes you have a lack of resources or it will involve too many parts or it’s too expensive or the time is not right. But sooner or later we will take ideas out of the map and do something.”

One important innovation strategy that Haelvoet embraced five years ago was to put 50% of their efforts into the last 10% of the product development process.

“The last 10% is all the finer details which ensure our products look better, function better and offer the best quality result. If people are comparing two products, you always want to be the one they choose in the end.”

Explore our Haelvoet range or get touch to chat to our experienced team.