WS Audiology held a Media Day September 20, 2023, at their new Americas Manufacturing and Distribution Center in Tijuana, Mexico. The new 94,000 square foot facility is the WS Audiology base of operations to serve Signia customers throughout the United States, Canada, and Latin America.
Longtime HHTM editor and contributor, Dr. Robert Traynor, had the opportunity to tour the facility alongside a number of other industry professionals.
WS Audiology believes the move will improve its customer support programs in the face of sustained global supply chain disruptions. In their new location, the company is now surrounded by other innovative companies such as Medtronic, Samsung, General Motors, and other technology and aerospace companies relocating to the Tijuana Free Zone.
The Free Zone and its proximity to the United States significantly reduces the global supply chain disruptions seen in recent years while recruiting and maintaining a highly motivated workforce. In their new Americas Manufacturing and Distribution Center, WS Audiology supports their commitment to the highest quality state-of-the-art production and continuous enhancement of customer support programs.
New Americas Facility
The morning program for the tour began with a briefing by Carston Buhl, President of WS Audiology, Americas. Mr. Buhl presented on the global reach of the company and the various WS Audiology sister companies within his responsibility throughout the Americas. He also indicated the new Tijuana facility is currently only for the manufacture of Signia products and that Widex devices will still be manufactured in their Long Island, New York facility.
Specifically, he emphasized the global areas served by the new Tijuana facility supports the various sister companies throughout the Americas.
Mr. Ziad Mikati, Vice President Operations APAC & Global Smart Lean Program, as the person that has designed the manufacturing process, briefed the group regarding the benefits of the new manufacturing facility, their innovative processes for manufacturing hearing devices, as well as the fabrication of custom hearing aid shells and earmolds.
Dr. Sheena Oliver, Head of Marketing for the Americas, discussed the specific goals and objectives of the company for serving their customers and how the new facility will accomplish these goals.
Dr. Leanne Powers, Director of Professional Education offered a detailed overview of the innovative technology offered within the Signia line of hearing devices, with special emphasis on how Signia devices process speech in difficult listing situations.
The tour of the facility, conducted by Rob Walesa, Vice President of Operations for WS Audiology Americas. As the person in charge of the Tijuana facility, Mr. Walesa led the tour explaining some of the tedious, but manageable legal details of the Tijuana Free Zone and Mexican Free Zones in general.
For audiologists these tours are usually rather mundane and very similar but this tour, according to Dr. Traynor, offered some interesting insights to innovation that seems to be significantly different. Mr. Walesa explained everything from the company’s interactions with their employees to their innovative data entry system, and how the proximity of the manufacturing components to the workers offered efficiency allowing manufacturing to stay on schedule.
“It had been a few years since my last hearing aid manufacturing plant tour. As I walked through the 94,000 square foot facility, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the potential for expansion at the Tijuana facility and the innovative production processes employed in crafting the hearing devices.”
–Robert Traynor, Ed.D
The media group was also shown their special small batch shell and earmold laboratory in an area that had none of the unusual fumes typically associated with fabrication of these products. A special ventilation system was designed to protect the employees from inhaling the byproduct of shell and earmold manufacturing.
The fabrication of custom hearing devices in most hearing device manufacturing is usually conducted by a master worker with many years of experience building hearing devices. Mr. Mikati has implemented a process used for years in the automobile industry whereby each technician builds a specific portion of the hearing device.
As the custom devices are built, a technician builds their component of the device and upon completion of their task, the device is passed along to the next technician who checks the work of the previous person, and then builds their portion of the device. This process is repeated until the construction of the device is completed. This method offers several quality control checks rather than the usual single check of the final device and contributes to the reliability of the WS Audiology Custom Devices.
The technicians and other workers in the Tijuana facility are provided transportation to and from the WS Audiology facility every day as a benefit to reduce their expenses as well as traffic frustration. The company also provides each employee with a free lunch by the company during their shift. As an additional benefit, medical care is available within the facility by a full-time physician and nursing staff for the employees and their families.
Impact on the Hearing Industry
It appears that moving custom production from Asia to Mexico will not only bring the manufacturing process closer to their market in the Americas, but the innovative device fabrication techniques will also offer high product reliability and faster customer service from a highly motivated workforce.
“The entire WS Audiology team worked hard to design, engineer, and open a state-of-the-art, 94,000 square-foot manufacturing facility that sets new operational standards for the hearing aid industry. Its success is a testament to the commitment, passion, and ingenuity of literally hundreds of team members across three continents. We were honored and privileged to recently host some of the hearing care industry’s leading reporters and opinion leaders to witness firsthand the passion and drive at the core of AMDC and our entire company.”
–Robert Walesa, VP of Operations, Americas, WS Audiology