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"Embody Gentleness"; Evolution in Manufacturing [Tokuki Medical Industries]

Secret to Robustness
  • Develops healthcare and nursing care equipment using electronics technology.
  • Strong relationship of trust with patients and healthcare providers.
  • Benefits from East Kyushu Medical Valley Project.

Tokuki Medical Industries manufactures healthcare and nursing care equipment, and has developed automatic suction devices to remove phlegm from patients' tracheas. Its President, Shuichi Tokunaga, aims for Tokuki to be "a company that contributes to healthcare and health through technology." Suction devices alleviate the physical burden on patients with hard-to-treat conditions, and also mitigate the care workload of families. Tokuki's suction devices have received attention nationwide. They incorporate President Tokunaga's approach to manufacturing: "Embody gentleness."

Idea nurtured for 12 years

Tokuki was founded in 1997, when Tokunaga was 47. He'd been an engineer at Hitachi, and when he resigned at the age of 35, he returned to his hometown in Oita Prefecture. He tried to turn the development of nursing care equipment into a business, but that didn't lead to a start-up, so he found work at a company that managed electronic device technology.

Twelve years later, a friend's brother developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The friend started the Oita branch of the Japan ALS Association, and asked Tokunaga to join. Every time Tokunaga took part in the branch's activities, along with patients and their families, he thought anew, "I want to be useful in actual care, through my own technology" (Tokunaga). Accordingly, he decided to start a business.

After starting Tokuki, Tokunaga developed equipment for communication by ALS patients, and "out-of-bed sensors" to detect wandering by patients with Alzheimer's disease. It's difficult for outsiders to enter actual care situations, so finding out what's needed in such situations isn't easy, either. Tokunaga was able to overcome that and develop equipment because he'd build a strong relationship of trust with patients and care providers.

Development of suction devices for tracheal phlegm

Around that time, Tokunaga heard from a physician who treated ALS patients in their homes that "patients with artificial respirators and their carers have difficulty with the task of suctioning phlegm. Isn't it possible to develop an automatic suction device that could alleviate the burden on both sides?" So, in 2000, Tokunaga started to develop such a device.

ALS is a condition where motor neurons, which move the body, change. As ALS progresses, patients have difficulty moving and breathing, so they need an artificial respirator. Unless phlegm is removed from a patient's airway every 1-2 hours, the patient is in danger of suffocating. Consequently, relatives who provide care can't sleep through the night.

The Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare was also struggling to mitigate the work of suctioning patients with hard-to-treat conditions. Suctioning is done by inserting a tube into a pipe that conducts air into the sectioned trachea, to suction out phlegm from the trachea at a high rate. This is painful for patients, and there's also the risk that the tube will damage the trachea wall. When patients were cared for at home, relatives and helpers had to do this task, so it was an acute problem for families as well.

What Tokunaga developed to solve this problem was a tracheal phlegm suction device. By using a motor to drive a four-stage silicone pump, Tokunaga achieved low-rate, continuous suction. By contrast to the suction devices on the market, which removed 20 l/minute, Tokunaga's achieves a low rate of 1.2 l/minute, which doesn't impact patients. By integrating the suction hole in the tube with the inside of the cannula, this device also ensured safe suctioning, without the tube sticking to the trachea lining. The device received pharmaceutical regulatory approval in 2008, and was released in 2011. From development to release took 12 years.

Building relationship of trust with care providers

Total sales of Tokuki's suction device have exceeded 500 units. It can reduce average suction frequency from 17.5 times per day to 2.9 times. Users say: "Patients can sleep soundly," and "Care workloads have decreased." Japan has about 5,000 ALS patients. Including elderly and disabled people who require suction, the device could be used by 50,000 people. As Japan's population ages, the market will grow.

Tokuki's revenue for the year ending in June 2013 was 172 million yen. Half came from the sale and rental of care equipment, with the company's own healthcare equipment, including suction devices, accounting for 20%. However, the East Kyushu Medical Valley Project, by Oita and Miyazaki Prefectures, has also provided a favorable wind for the local healthcare equipment industry, through collaboration between the industrial, academic, and government sectors. In response, Tokunaga is ambitious, hoping to increase the percentage of Tokuki's revenue from healthcare equipment to about 40%, and "aiming for revenue of 500 million yen after five years" (Tokunaga).

An automatic suction devices to remove phlegm from patients' tracheas.

An automatic suction devices to remove phlegm from patients' tracheas.


Aiming to establish a brand

On January 1, 2014, Tokuki Medical Industries changed its name from Tokunaga Device Laboratory. Tokunaga wanted to eliminate the image of a laboratory, and "grow into a manufacturer with a strong brand nominated by customers." In 2013, the company released foot-operated suction devices, which don't need a power supply. It's also doing development with Oita University's Faculty of Medicine. Tokunaga is currently 63. He hopes to keep developing equipment that makes users genuinely happy.

Company Data

President:Jun Inaba

President :Shuichi Tokunaga

Company name Tokuki Medical Industries
President Shuichi Tokunaga
Industry Type Manufacture and sale of healthcare and nursing care equipment Automatic suction device for tracheal phlegm
Address 318 Oonegawa, Usa City, Oita Prefecture, Japan
Phone 0978-33-5595

Printing day:May 8, 2014

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