Anyone looking for the roots of Fresenius Medical Care’s success need only travel to a small city in Germany’s Saarland region: The company’s rise to become the world leader in dialysis is closely linked to the history of its production and development site in St. Wendel, which has marked its 40th anniversary.
It was in St. Wendel that the first Fresenius dialyzers were developed, and it was also here that the first dialyzer production lines were set up. Today, the facility houses one of the biggest dialyzer factories in the world and one of Fresenius Medical Care’s most important research and development centers.
“The only problem was, we still didn’t have any dialyzers; at that point everything was just a vision,” recalled Klaus Heilmann, the former St. Wendel plant manager, who was responsible for “Project Dialyzer” at the time. Yet this vision soon became a reality and, by 1979, the factory in St. Wendel was already producing 200,000 filters per year – manufactured in those days with Cuprophan, the standard fiber then used in the industry. “I believe the decisive factor in our success was the Fresenius company culture: entrepreneurial determination and highly motivated workers,” said Heilmann.
In the early 1980s, the research team in St. Wendel achieved a technological breakthrough by developing a dialyzer with the synthetic material Polysulfone, thereby ringing in a new era in the treatment of patients with chronic kidney failure. Polysulfone dialyzers, which are particularly effective in the leaning of a patient’s blood and are well tolerated by the human body, are now the benchmark for quality throughout the industry.
Since developing this innovation, Fresenius Medical Care has continuously improved its dialyzers and has expanded its production capacities in St. Wendel several times. The company invested more than €100 million in the site in 2013 and 2014 alone, and these investments were not the last, Ulf Mark Schneider, CEO of Fresenius, told the 40th anniversary celebration at the St. Wendel plant. “Our investments will continue in the years to come,” Schneider said. “This is a firm commitment.”
Rice Powell, CEO of Fresenius Medical Care, congratulated all the employees at the St. Wendel site and highlighted the major role played by the plant in the success of Fresenius Medical Care. “Forty years ago,” said Powell, “nobody would have thought that today we’d be delivering dialysis products to more than 120 countries and providing services in about 45 countries. Similarly, we don’t really know now what the next 40 years will bring, but we look forward to continuing the success story of the company and our production site in St. Wendel.”