Meet Quality Assurance Engineer Ed Otero

Ed Otero - Tel-Tron Quality Assurance Engineer.

Tel-Tron is constantly developing and delivering new and improved products to help senior living companies and the seniors they serve. An extremely important part of the product development process is ensuring the design meets Tel-Tron’s high standard for quality.

Ed Otero is Tel-Tron’s Quality Assurance Engineer, responsible for final testing and validation of new and existing product designs before they become actual products. Ed has been working with healthcare technology since 1986, involved in installing, maintaining, and testing of systems within hospitals and residential communities.

“I have always kept in the front of my mind that any and all products I touch could at any point in time be used to save someone’s life. This is the reason I have always taken extra care and pride in making sure that what I work on is tested and retested.”

Ed understands the negative impact a product defect can have on community operations and seniors’ lives. “I have always kept in the front of my mind that any and all products I touch could at any point in time be used to save someone’s life,” says Ed. “This is the reason I have always taken extra care and pride in making sure that what I work on is tested and retested.” 

Ed works diligently testing a Tel-Tron wireless transmitter

Ed works diligently at testing a Tel-Tron wireless transmitter

During the testing process, no product is released until it has passed every single test from start-to-finish and the product development team, including Ed, is satisfied that the product is worthy of release. “The tests are numerous and repetitive, and we push our products to the max to ensure that we are delivering only quality products,” Ed says. “I’m very proud to be a member of the Tel-Tron team and knowing that I am doing my part ensuring that every product that touches my hands or goes out the door could be responsible for saving someone’s life.”

All Senior Living Communities Are The Same!

Exhibit ASeriously.  Take a look at the web sites for the top senior living providers and see if you can spot the differences between them.  I’ve posted a few screen shots from a few just to prove the point.  Look at the mission statement graphic.  Is there a senior living company in existence that doesn’t claim to do ALL of those same things?

  • Friendly/Caring Staff
  • Beautiful Rooms
  • Great Food Service
  • Fun Activities and Social InteractionExhibit B
  • Regular Laundry Services
  • Transportation as Needed
  • 24 hour emergency response system
  • Etc., Etc., Etc.

So it is reasonable to assume all senior living communities are the same based on what they “claim” to be able to provide.  Deeper understanding isn’t necessary.  The only method to choose one from another would be whichever is cheapest.  Make sense?  It’s only where you will likely live the rest of your life.

To a person, my clients would say that is a ridiculous assertion.  And they would be right.

Having been in literally hundreds of retirement communities all over the United Exhibit CStates I can say with certainty that while the list of offerings is similar, all senior living communities are NOT the same.

In about 100 ways that don’t show up well on paper, I could easily describe the difference between a run-down old building, with criminal care givers, operated by a fly-by-night company and a well run, thoughtfully built and superbly managed senior living community – maybe even operated by a equally high quality corporate owner.  Every senior living executive knows instinctively that not all senior living companies, or communities, are created equal.  Far from it!

So help me with this.  Some of those same senior living executives – decision makers –believe that there is equality between all emergency call system providers simply because they claim to offer similar services.  For example, most of us claim to provide:

Does not the same logic apply to our industry and theirs?  You can’t have it both ways.  Isn’t it the design, manufacture and delivery of products and services that makes ALL the difference?  Of course.  There seems to be a strong desire for the flexibility that comes from buying commodity products – multiple sources, hyper-competitive pricing, etc.  But just pretending that a market is commoditized doesn’t make it true.  It does, however, alter your perceptions – incorrectly and potentially dangerously.

If you are using a commodity-based mentality to judge a non-commodity product/service you will make two mistakes.  1) You will assume the low price companies are decent quality and just being competitive.  Wrong.  They are inexpensive because they are cheap and poorly made.  2)  You will assume the high price companies are not better than the low price guys, they are just out of touch with current market prices.  Wrong again.

Being the Designer and Manufacturer Matters

Making A Difference

Delivering On The Promise 78 Times and Counting

In about 100 ways that don’t show up well on paper, I could describe the difference between a cheap PC based system, integrated with generic wireless components made by someone else, delivered by a clueless bunch of software guys, and a highly specialized emergency call system, made in America by a company that has invented nearly every feature of modern life safety systems, delivered and supported by the most experienced and committed emergency call professionals in the world.

So, no.  Not all senior living communities are the same. Neither are emergency call companies.

How Long Should Emergency Call Systems Last?

Forever.  Not really, but that is probably the only answer any buyer wants to hear.  These are technically advanced systems, so a multi-decade expectation is probably not realistic anymore.  That kind of thinking is a throwback from the days that emergency call systems were nothing more than a light bulb and a switch.

“It’s just not right that after just buying your systems 12 years ago we should have to spend money to upgrade them to the latest and greatest.  The whole emergency call industry has us bent over a barrel.  We have to have these systems, and you force us to upgrade them.”  — Actual conversation with the CEO of a major senior living provider and long term client.  His expectations are common, but not realistic.

So what is a realistic time frame?  And what should senior living operators expect for an End of Life process.  This article will attempt to answer those to questions and others.  I am running a risk here by shattering the dream of some buyers who genuinely think emergency call systems should last for 20+ years (and never need service).  However, candid discussion, and setting realistic expectations is how Tel-Tron has been in business for 65 years and why we still have our first ever senior living customer as a client.  Here it goes:

Product Life Cycle

Senior living operators should expect to get 10 years of performance out of an emergency call system.**  I star this statement because their are many mitigating circumstances that will extend this time period.  But let’s assume for sake of this discussion that no changes or upgrades are made to the system at all during its life.  Why only 10 years?  It isn’t the hardware.

Using rugged design philosophy, level III manufacturing techniques, and high quality components (all of which Tel-Tron does) will result in a system that will function in a perfect, temperature controlled, never touched by a human being environment  for 20-30 years.  We just replaced an old Tel-Tron system at Shellpoint Village that had been installed and working for over 25 years.  It is not the hardware that gives out and requires replacement.

Sure, sometimes components become obsolete and a replacement needs to be sourced. And, occasionally new technology is invented and wipes out an entire design methodology.  This makes continued manufacturing difficult, but won’t cause the system you already purchased to suddenly quit.  Just because they invented high definition TV doesn’t mean your old set will all of a sudden quit working.  That’s Murphy’s law, which is out of human control.  But these and other issues do relate to the primary reason products become obsolete and manufacturers issue “End of Life” notices.  Manufacture-ability and Supportability.

MicroScan System - Introduced in 1982

Manufacture-ability – If new components or technology is invented, the cost of continuing to manufacture the old way eventually becomes prohibitive.  For example, in an older Tel-Tron product we used an EEPROM chip that was less than $1 each.  Today, that same component is $25.  In other cases, it isn’t a matter of expense.  The part is simply unavailable.

Supportability – Take the EEPROM chip example above.  At some point, Tel-Tron was forced to design a new circuit board using a different EEPROM chip, and was required to write new firmware to support the new EEPROM chip.  At the same time we made a few other improvements and released a new product version.  At that instant, we were now supporting two versions of the same product.  In the product design world, that is called legacy product support.  The problem is that while the two products do the same thing (and because we’re good, the new one is also backwards compatible), repair of the old version is not feasible.  Over the course of a decade this process can repeat itself several times and at some point, it is simply too costly to maintain multiple versions of the same product.  This same level of complexity ripples throughout the organization.

Technical support, installation, customer service – even sales – all need to stay aware of product versions and capabilities.  When the weight of maintaining an multi-version, outdated product line is heavier than designing a new platform from scratch, End of Life announcement can’t be far away. Senior living operators deal with this issue all the time in their business.  The product in their world is the physical plant (the building) itself.  How many times have operators looking to grow their business had to make the build/buy decision.  It’s the same concept.

Think of the complexity of owning a senior living building that was built in multiple phases, expansions and refurbishments, over the course of 20 years.  Different electrical systems, wiring standards, wall construction, fire supression systems, hallway widths, etc.  The list is endless.  Every once in a while the decision is made to demo the building and start over.  It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.  Or maybe, like in the case of the Tel-Tron building, entire system are replaced.  We needed a new HVAC unit.  It was so difficult to retrofit to the old ductwork, we ripped out all the ceilings and replaced everything.  Sometimes a new platform is required. Their is no way to avoid an occasional End Of Life event.

Instead, we should focus on how long a product should last from time of purchase until End Of Life, and how the transition handled.  These two areas are a matter of corporate policy and reflect the character of the organization and its leadership.  And…a subject for a future blog post.

Tel-Tron Technologies: Proudly Made in the USA

“Made in the USA”

Tel-Tron Technologies - Made in the USA

So I’m sitting on my couch this Memorial Day and it occurs to me being “Made in the USA” means more than a label on the bottom of a toy, although even finding one of those is becoming less and less likely without really making an effort to make that choice.  America’s rich tradition in manufacturing lives on at places like Holgate toys, Orb Audio and Tel-Tron Technologies.  Now I’m obviously a little partial to things “Made in the USA”, I don’t own a foreign car and I do my best to buy products that are made here or at least have an investment in our nation’s success.  I also get to choose where I work and what that says.  I work for Tel-Tron for a lot of reasons; one of them is that it’s an American owned and operated company.  I’ve worked for some pretty big technology companies in the past and the difference between an American owned company and foreign owned and operated company can be quite different when it comes to culture, decision making process and service.  Even taking small parts of your business and moving them offshore can prove to be an alienating and frustrating experience for business partners and customers.

Imagine that your new emergency call system is made by a company like ChinaCorp Healthcare Systems and you’ve been buying these systems for years, as a matter of fact you just put them in your new flagship community and proudly display your use of their product on your corporate website.  As luck would have it three years ago the manufacturer of your emergency call systems, China Corp Healthcare Systems had problems meeting their government mandated margins so they stopped their once semi-rigorous testing process in order to push more product out the door faster.  ChinaCorp Healthcare Systems makes lots of things; they also make defibrillators, thermometers and fluorescent light bulbs for the waiting room.  As the emergency call systems are rushed off of the assembly line and boxed so that resources can be diverted to the outgoing defibrillators twenty customers were just shipped the liability of a lifetime.  Nothing was tested, even though ChinaCorp Healthcare just started getting new memory chips from a new vendor.  Nothing was tested, even though their plant flooded last month and hadn’t been inspected or recertified by any regulatory agency.  Nothing was tested.

Things seem to be going pretty well it’s been a few years and no one has noticed any problems with ChinaCorp Healthcare’s new emergency call systems.  It’s Friday, because this sort of thing always happens on Friday, the phone rings and the IT administrator for your company calls and says there is a problem with the emergency call systems at your properties.  It’s “just stopped working” and it seems to have happened at three or four communities at once, he thinks you’d better get down there.

It’s the memory chip from the new vendor; it’s failed in fifty percent of systems.  ChinaCorp found out about it last month, they’ve been working on a new source for the problematic memory chips; the old vendor is making hard drives now.  They think they can have some replacements made in about four weeks and then there’s that six weeks to ship them here, by boat.  No ChinaCorp Healthcare doesn’t have an Engineer that can come over and take a look, no they don’t care that you’re inconvenienced, no they can’t find a temporary solution, no they don’t care when you talk to their technical support representative in Malaysia and get the runaround instead of the truth about what is happening.  As you contemplate the next ten weeks of operations, having to run your communities without emergency call systems it washes over you.  You remember when this happened last year it was a similar problem with your computer, it was a bad memory chip, you called Dell and they were there on Saturday, new chip, computer working.  I should have bought “Made in the USA”.  Here’s a link to a pro manufacturing in China blog, even pro outsourcing advocates understand the risk and difficulty of manufacturing goods in China and ensuring the quality is acceptable.

“Made in the USA” has always been synonymous with Made with Pride.  Nothing has changed.  I see the rigor with which Tel-Tron employees ensure the quality and reliability of their products every day.  It’s a level of dedication and loyalty that is hard to find.  I’ve seen our company make mistakes, it’s what happens after the mistake that differs us from ChinaCorp Healthcare.  We have integrity that doesn’t waiver.  Every product is “Made in the USA” and because we take pride in that, it has to mean more than where the equipment is manufactured.  Yes it’s manufactured here, yes it’s designed here, yes it’s supported here but so what, how does that make us any better than the next guy?  It’s a matter of pride, ownership and commitment.  It’s the ability to respond to an assembly line problem immediately, not weeks later.  We walk through our manufacturing floor every day.  We use the products that came off of the line every day.  We hold ourselves accountable and take pride in what we produce every day.

If you have ever bought an emergency call system from a company like ChinaCorp Healthcare then you have probably never met their CEO.  Their executive staff is probably never in your buildings.  The people that actually make the equipment that you count on to protect and even save lives is likely made by people that have no idea what the culture in your community is like, the pressure to never miss a call, the look of disappointment in the family members of those we have been entrusted to protect when their “widget” fails.  Our manufacturing team understands the nature of our partnership; they have spent time in your communities.  They understand that they are charged with manufacturing a product that they would trust to save their own mother’s life.  I doubt that anyone at ChinaCorp Healthcare has a family member in your community.  My grandmother passed away of natural causes in one of your communities, it had a Tel-Tron emergency call system.  She used it often and without fail.  My story isn’t unique.  Over half of our senior management team has had a loved one under our joint care; in your community and using our emergency call system.  We all sleep well every evening.  We know that we’re right around the corner.  We know that there are no lengths that we won’t endeavor to ensure that safety of or our charges.  We take pride in what “Made in the USA” means and we ensure that pride is reflected in the quality of every product, installation and customer interaction.

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