When you are an organization known for 'relentless innovation', site selection plays a critical role in your business development and expansion plans. A division of multinational Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Point of Care (APOC) develops, manufactures and markets critical tools for rapid blood analysis at patients' bedsides. Headquartered in New Jersey, APOC developed a state-of-the art 500,000 square foot facility in Ottawa, Ontario to meet the increasing manufacturing demands of their flagship i-STAT™ System. However, in a globally competitive, highly technical market, APOC realized it would take more than just an adequate facility to ensure long-term success.

Abbott Point of Care, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Abbott Point of Care, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

The Challenge

As demand for the i-STAT System increased at an astounding pace, APOC not only needed larger facilities, but a location rich in existing skilled talent. However, because of the intricacies and complexity in manufacturing a product of this high calibre, it was critical for APOC to be part of a business ecosystem where continuous innovation could be realized through collaboration with government and educational institutions – an environment where highly skilled workers could continually upgrade their education to keep pace with technological advances.

Background

APOC manufacturing facility in Ottawa
Abbott Point of Care’s manufacturing facility is located in the west end of Ottawa, Ontario.

A division of Abbott Laboratories, which employs 70,000 people globally and has $22 billion in sales across more than 150 countries, APOC employs 850 people in Ottawa. Its 500,000 square foot facility is the global manufacturing headquarters for i-STAT, a lightweight, handheld blood analyzer that performs a broad range of commonly ordered blood tests, from blood gases and chemistries to cardiac markers. The device is currently used to carry out more than 100 million tests per year in over 2,000 institutions in 84 countries.

Requiring just two or three drops of blood, i-STAT allows physicians and nurses to analyze real-time, lab-quality results within minutes instead of having to send off samples and wait for results. The system is used in a variety of health care settings, including emergency departments, intensive care units, operating rooms, outpatient clinics and physician offices.

i-STAT cartridges contain chemically sensitive biosensors on a silicon chip that are configured to perform specific tests. Manufacturing the cartridges at the rate of 140,000 per day, APOC needs its production employees to be trained in techniques for advanced-manufacturing microelectronics – an industry sector characterized by rapid change and development.

The Solution: Grooming high-tech talent

One of APOC's key differentiators is its unique apprenticeship program, launched in 2007. That year, in collaboration with Ottawa's Algonquin College, the company began to offer a Microelectronics Manufacturer apprenticeship. "Participants earned college credits on the job while developing transferable job skills," says Cathy Lewis, Business Excellence Manager at APOC.

Over the course of four years, APOC applied tax credits against 300 apprenticeships. The original program ran until 2014, when Abbott introduced a new Instrumentation and Control Technician apprenticeship as the next evolution.

APOC’s i-STAT handheld blood analyzer
Abbott Point of Care’s i-STAT is a handheld blood analyzer that quickly performs a range of commonly ordered blood tests.
Apprenticeship graduation ceremony at Algonquin College
Proud graduate of APOC’s apprenticeship program at Algonquin College convocation

"Aligning with Algonquin College to deliver the training, and working with the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, has been essential to the success of our apprenticeship programs,” says APOC plant director Sean Tomalty. "APOC's apprenticeship program creates a working environment that fosters innovation and a culture of learning."

APOC is clearly a technology leader with an established plan for long-term success—the firm has seen double-digit growth annually over the past five years. And it's not something that could happen in just any jurisdiction.

"Our apprenticeship program would not be possible, or even attempted, without the support of the provincial government and the tax credits that offset the cost to our business," says Lewis. "The ministry is an essential partner in our apprenticeship and workforce development success."

Why Ontario?

Ontario's Apprenticeship Tax Credit Program and transfer funds from the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) have allowed APOC to train and develop more than 400 qualified employees.

Innovation grants from the Toronto-based Yves Landry Foundation in 2010 and 2011 were an additional boon for the company's ability to advance the technological education and skills training it could provide. As well, like many other Ontario businesses, APOC has benefited from federal Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax credits.

APOC has harnessed the advantages enjoyed by medical technology businesses based in Ontario. The province gives businesses in this increasingly globalized industry the tools to compete, from tax credits to business support, to highly skilled, educated workers and a competitive business cost environment.

To stay ahead of competitors, APOC works continuously to deliver new i-STAT features designed to help hospital labs and administrators improve regulatory compliance, oversight and control of point-of-care testing programs.

The company sees its west Ottawa location as an asset in meeting these challenges, in part because the area has long been a vibrant high-tech community. "Being located in west Ottawa has been ideal since we purchased iStat Corp. [about 10 years ago] due to the wafer fabrication and chip hub that had grown up here around Nortel," says APOC plant director Sean Tomalty. "The talent and environment was already here to support our manufacturing."

Sector/subsector: 

September 9, 2015

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