A Milestone in Product Quality and Innovation

Workers at the Medtronic Energy and Component Center celebrate 40 years of helping patients.

It started four decades ago as an effort to improve product quality, reliability and speed up innovation. Today it has developed into a cornerstone of the Medtronic Mission to serve patients.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Steve Watts, a 63-year-old-pacemaker patient from the United Kingdom, after a tour of the Medtronic Energy and Component Center – or MECC – in Brooklyn Center, Minn.

Steve Watts and his wife Christina tour the MECC facility in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota

Steve and Christina Watts tour MECC

Originally known as Medtronic Energy Technology, MECC was created with a unique vision: to research, develop and manufacture energy components for medical devices, all at the same location. The facility officially opened on Nov. 1, 1976, with a few dozen employees. Today, it employs over 1,200, and more than 17 million medical device components pass through MECC every year.

MECC celebrated the 40-year milestone this November with a variety of events, including a visit from Watts. He held back tears while thanking a crowd of several hundred MECC employees for their role in developing his pacemaker. Earlier this year, Watts became the first person with a pacemaker to run the Mount Everest Marathon, the highest elevation marathon in the world. Marathon organizers originally rejected his application due to the pacemaker; he needed a letter from his doctor to convince them he could do it. 

Steve Watts meets some of the people who contributed to his pacemaker

Steve Watts meets some of the people who contributed to his pacemaker

“This is not my accomplishment, it’s all of ours,” he told the MECC workers. “Without your work I would not have been able to run that marathon, and I am grateful to each and every one of you,” he said. Learn more about Steve Watts and his charitable events.

Sprinkled throughout the crowd were special anniversary t-shirts, listing the names of more than 100 MECC workers, each of whom directly contributed to Steve’s pacemaker. Watts met several of them during a two-hour tour of the MECC facility, and he greeted assembler Robin Range with a big hug.

Steve Watts

Steve Watts speaking to MECC employees

“I got goose bumps,” said Range, who had never before met a patient in her 13 years at MECC. “It just melted my heart to meet a patient that I have helped. It helps bring home how important our work is and to see the difference it made in him was very exciting,” she said.

Watts said he was profoundly moved by the attention to detail and the culture of innovation and caring he witnessed at MECC. “This thing in my chest is part of my family,” Watts said. “Because without it my family might not have me.  And so for someone from Medtronic to tell me how inspirational I am, is really overwhelming. It’s really the reverse.”

Don Merritt is a principal scientist who has worked at MECC for 37 of its 40 years. He read a letter from Medtronic founder Earl Bakken to all MECC employees. “I commend each of you for making it (the Medtronic Mission) a vital part of your life, not only at work but also at home,” Merritt read.  “I don’t think that there’s another company whose employees do so much to help others in so many ways.” (Read all of Earl Bakken’s letter.)

Omar Ishrak

Omar Ishrak

Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak told employees that bringing the research, development and manufacturing work onto one site was a visionary step. “The work that you do every day advances the Mission of Medtronic. Doing this work ourselves allows us to produce highly customized components while adhering to the highest standards of quality. And it gives us a cost advantage. All of these things are ultimately good for patients,” he said.

In the early days MECC’s main focus was on batteries.  Combined with other technologies that reduced power consumption, innovations in battery design have allowed many implantable medical devices to last longer and dramatically reduce device size.  Today MECC work goes well-beyond batteries, with 24-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week manufacturing of  various energy components for the Medtronic Cardiac Rhythm and Heart Failure division and the Restorative Therapies Group.  Millions of patients like Steve Watts benefit from MECC’s work every year.

“This visit has just blown me away completely,” Watts said. “To see their work and share my story with such innovative and passionate people, has been amazing.”