COO, Mathys Medical Limited
Q: Mathys is the only orthopaedics provider to manufacture its own ceramics. What are the advantages of this?
A: There are a variety of benefits to having our own bio-ceramic production facility. Firstly, we can monitor and influence the quality of our ceramics directly. We know exactly where the product comes from and what it can do and we can offer it as part of our portfolio with maximum confidence.
Secondly, having our own ceramics production plant gives us the opportunity to carry out research and development and try out innovations. Our customers also benefit from this: ideas and suggestions for further developments can be discussed with us directly. Unlike other companies that buy their ceramics from external suppliers, we can offer our customers the opportunity of contacting the people responsible, people with competence in the field of ceramics. When dealing with us, our customers acquire everything from a single source – from metal prostheses and instruments all the way to ceramics.
Q: So you have a lot of expertise in this field. Do you develop your ceramics yourselves in-house?
A: It’s true that we really have assembled a lot of knowledge in this sector. In 2002, we took over the German Keramed company and integrated it with its products into our group and our existing product portfolio. The production facility is still at the same location in Germany: Mörsdorf, Thuringia. The company, which was independent before we took it over, has been developing ceramic orthopaedic products since 1972, and was one of the first to bring them to the point where they were ready to market. The range has grown continuously since that time and is always geared to market conditions and requirements. For example, in 2003 we were able to create an ideal alternative to metal on metal (MOM) pairings with the introduction of Bionit® ceramic on ceramic (COC) large-diameter articulations. Discussions about polyethylene wear or the effect of metal ions become irrelevant if ceramic articulations are used.
Q: Isn’t there some risk of fracture when ceramic implants are used?
A: The safety of our Bionit® ball-heads, which contain aluminium oxide, has always been outstanding. As a result of constant exchange of information with our users we have also been continually improving them over the years. However, demand is increasing for ever thinner walls and for ceramic implants that are increasingly filigree and wear-free in design – and that shows us that the scepticism regarding ceramics is decreasing rapidly. These changing requirements are also what have led us to work on developing a new ceramic over the past three years.
Q: What is special about your newly developed ceramic?
A: The new development – our ceramys™ – is what is known as a dispersion ceramic. It is just as hard as our well-known Bionit® – but up to three times more fracture-resistant and at least as resistant to wear. The material is a composite of two well-known and established ceramics: aluminium oxide and zirconium oxide. The special feature is the mix ratio of these two ceramics. It also means that we have solved the well-known problem of ageing stability in pure zirconium oxide ceramics. All our ceramic implants across the whole range can now be customised from two different materials (or should I say from as many as desired).
Q: What advantage does ceramys™ offer to users?
A: The surgeon will benefit in particular from a higher level of damage tolerance in the case of intra-operative conditions that are not optimum. ceramys™ offers a new alternative for interventions in which only implants made of metallic materials have been available to date.
Our ceramys™ range currently includes ceramic heads and inlays for our modular pressfit cup system: seleXys™. The new material allows us to produce inlays with thinner walls. This gives us the option of using larger heads for smaller hip cups, which, in turn, increases the range of movement and reduces the risk of damage to the ceramic from impingement or subluxation. In addition, with the new ceramys™ material we can also offer a convincing solution in the unlikely event of fracture of the ceramic: three revision heads, in sizes 36, 32 and 28 mm, can be combined with four different titanium sleeves (S – XL). An ideal solution, not only for ceramic fractures but also in cases of dislocation or different leg lengths.
You can see that there is no doubt that Bionit® ceramics and the associated products offer a variety of significant advantages to the user. But it is important not to forget that it is principally the patient who benefits from ceramic implants. It is precisely that which is the aim of us all: satisfied, pain-free patients.
Q: Now that you are producing your own ceramics, I’m sure you also have a ceramic knee in the pipeline?
A: The material specifications of all the ceramics currently on the market have been developed and optimised specifically for use in the hip area. New specifications would have to be researched for an indication in the knee, and suitable materials developed so as to meet the biological requirements of the knee.
To answer your question: we are in the process of putting together a group of doctors to develop a ceramic that would be suitable for this purpose. Only once we have been convinced by this material will we make a product from it.
Q: As a Swiss orthopaedics company, you manufacture your own ceramics in Germany. Are your other products made in Switzerland?
A: The family-run Mathys company was founded in 1946 by Robert Mathys senior. Against this historical background, the majority of our production takes place in Bettlach, Switzerland, which is also the location of the company’s head office.
We produce our plastics components in Grenchen, right next-door to Bettlach. As you say, the ceramics are produced in Germany. Thuringia has a long tradition in ceramics and the production plant is based there. It would therefore make little sense to shift it from Germany to Switzerland.
As you can already see from the line “European Orthopaedics” in our logo, we are local. Our claim is that we are close to our customers. Production facilities in Asia or America would be out of the question for us. Being local means being able to respond and to act with flexibility. Ultimately we don’t want to merely oversee the problems of our customers but we want to solve them.