Seeing the light: simple products for a complex problem
In manufacturing affordable, appropriate and accessible medical equipment to help prevent blindness, it's not surprising to find Scan Optics' products in 121 countries.
In fact, this Thebarton Campus-based company is a major exporter, with 95% of its revenue coming from its overseas links in Africa, Asia and Latin America. And each year more than 600,000 people across the world have their sight restored by Scan Optics equipment.
At their Adelaide facility, they manufacture a range of products covering operating microscopes for both ophthalmology and ENT (ear, nose and throat), hand-held portable slit lamps, portable surgical lights, indirect spectacle mounted ophthalmoscope and operating table extension.
"An active research and development program ensures the development of new products, and we are currently finalising an affordable small high resolution digital fundus camera," says general manager Brian Staples.
The Scan Optics Fundus Imaging System (SOFI) is a completely integrated digital fundus system, comprising both camera hardware and image database and enhancement software.
"It will produce high resolution digital photographs of the back of the eye in a smaller and lower cost instrument than is currently available.
"This will allow it to be more readily available and it will be ideal for screening for diseases such as diabetes," says Mr Staples. Prototypes will be available in October this year, with the first sales in March 2006.
SOFI will have a five-year development program that supports Scan Optics' philosophy of manufacturing equipment to help reduce suffering throughout the world.
"In producing SOFI and other products, we have been able to differentiate ourselves by making our products simple and appropriate for use anywhere in the world," says Brian Staples.
"Our products are power and battery-driven, robust, non-ferrous and durable. This has proven to be crucial in some of the Third World African countries. If, for example, a product falls from the back of a donkey, it will not get damaged."
In employing engineers, software experts, technicians and tradesmen, Scan Optics has a wealth of expertise within its ranks. Its founder and chief executive Dr Rod Watkins, along with Brian Staples, received a solid grounding at one of the largest manufacturers of plastic ophthalmic and sunglass lenses, and ophthalmic and defence optics.
A former lecturer in Applied Optics, Dr Watkins is a winner of numerous awards for his work. He has many international appointments and also serves on a number of boards.
Scan Optics has also not gone unnoticed on the world stage. In 2001 and 2002, they were recognised for corporate achievement in the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Awards. In 2001, they were acknowledged for their "commitment to innovation and in particular the development of optical equipment for the examination and treatment of hearing and vision" by the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Science and Resources.
"The most satisfying part of our business is witnessing our product assisting people overcoming blindness. And coupled to this, we seek as much feedback as possible allowing for continuous improvement," Mr Staples says.
Staples says the company uses a mixture of trained distributor staff, independent service people and e-mail to maintain effective and responsive global service arrangements. It conducts regular service training programs in developing regions.
"To meet the strong interest for our products in China, we opened a representative office in Shanghai in 2000. China is currently our largest export market."
To maintain their focus and strong position in the market, the company attended the Asia Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in March this year, and the Congress of Ophthalmology and Optometry China meeting in Shanghai, China in April. In October, they will be attending the 109th annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in Chicago, USA. ■
Story Howard Salkow