Trulife manufactures breast forms, orthotics, prosthetics, operating room pads and supports, wheelchair cushions, and related accessories that support or supplant human body parts. David Soyka reports on how this company creates, manufactures, markets, and distributes worldwide niche healthcare products that are truly true to life.
The Rigveda, a Sanskrit sacred text, recounts how the warrior queen Vishpala’s severed leg was replaced with an iron limb so she could continue to race. While it’s hard to imagine how fast anyone could run with an iron prosthetic, the earliest actual prosthetics dating back to the 16th century were in fact made from iron, steel, copper, and wood.
Fortunately, modern prostheses are lighter, more comfortable, and more functional. They are, in other words, more “Trulife.” And there could be no better name for the Dublin, Ireland-headquartered maker of various prosthetics dedicated to the guiding rule of healthcare to “make the patient comfortable.”
Founded in 1958 by Walter Kausch, who developed the world’s first commercial external breast prosthesis, the Liquid 212, Trulife has evolved into a global provider of orthotics, prosthetics, and a range of hospital and personal healthcare devices that support human body parts.
“Up until the mid 1990s, Trulife was primarily focused on breast prostheses,” notes France Foster, marketing manager. “We expanded our product range through various acquisitions between 1997 and 2004. These included industry leading innoInnovators such as CAMP mastectomy bras and Seattle Systems composite lower limb prostheses. Today about 25 percent of our business is breast care, 45 percent orthopedics, 15 percent prosthetics, and the remaining 15 percent comprises of various operating room bed gel pads and positioners and wheelchair cushions.”
Employing more than 600 among offices in Ireland, the United Kingdom, the US, and Canada, Trulife has built an international presence marketing through about 300 distributors in over 80 countries.
“Different countries have different regulations and standards for prosthetics, so we decide the product mix and distribution channels on a country to country basis,” Foster explains. “In the Americas, our products are sold under various brand names to medical supply facilities as well as women’s healthcare specialty boutiques. Trulife in North America has over 4,000 active customers. In the UK and Ireland, Trulife has an active customer base of approximately 1,200 accounts. We provide orthotic services through the National Health Service in the UK. In Western and Central Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Australia, our product ranges are marketed through specialist distributors selling primarily into medical supply stores and hospitals.”
Manufacturing facilities are spread out regionally, with different centers specializing in different competencies. “Our sew plant is in Canada,” Foster says. “We have state-of-the-art knitting equipment to make prosthetic interfaces, and advanced system of computerized Gerber cutting machines to design and manufacture bras and other orthopedic soft goods.”
In the UK, Trulife manufactures to specific patient requirements, creating most patterns and designs in-house. ISO 13485:2003 certified Birmingham and Sheffield plants make orthoses in a wide range of materials ranging from carbon and glass fiber composites to modern thermoplastics to more traditional metals and leathers. The Birmingham facility also houses a research and development laboratory.
Trulife makes custom-designed breast prostheses in the US. Its Poulsbo, Wash. facility produces the Custom Sure Step line of ankle and foot orthoses along with the new Custom Knee Ankle Foot Orthoses (KAFO), using a variety of materials, including steel, titanium, aluminum, plastic, carbon fiber, foam, rubber, and urethanes. Poulsbo is also the home of a test laboratory that ensures all prosthetic feet satisfy the ISO22675 standard to endure the forces of a natural walking cadence.
While there is significant competition in all its product segments, Foster says Trulife stands out in a number of ways. “We provide high-end products people need for their well-being at a reasonable price,” she says. “Now, that’s a differentiator that is more important in some parts of the world than others. In the US market, for example, consumers typically rely on insurance reimbursement for the bulk of the cost, so price is a critical factor. But wherever we sell our products, quality is always a key concern. Trulife is totally committed to providing our customers with products employing the newest materials, design, and technology to achieve the highest quality.”
In addition to meeting all regulatory medical device manufacturer requirements, Trulife is heavily invested in research and development. “It’s a big part of culture, and everyone, including our CEO, is actively involved in working to determine customer needs and doing all we can to meet them,” Foster says.
She adds, “Rapid prototyping techniques, in-house model-making and mold design enable up-scaling to production at minimum cost and lead-times. With skills in CAD, Solid Works, engineering and industrial design, we can move from concept to design and rapid prototype through to product testing and successful product launch in a timely and controlled manner.”
Foster notes that while Trulife has been affected somewhat like everyone else by the economic downturn, “For the most part we are in a stable niche market. And there is always a definite need for our products.”
Trulife’s history explains why it is a leader in this market. “Our founder, Walter Kausch, invented the breast prosthesis because he was frustrated with the limited options available to his wife after she was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Foster says. “This was literally a labor of love for him. And that same spirit is at the heart of everything we do at Trulife today. We understand the importance of restoring the confidence, self-esteem and, ultimately, a better quality of life of everyone who needs and uses a Trulife product.”