RICHLAND — Dr. Lewis Zirkle and "silent partner" Jeanne Dillner light up when they talk about the new machines in the Surgical Implant Generation Network's freshly remodeled manufacturing plant in Richland.
But it isn't just new technology that has them excited -- it's the prospect of helping twice as many people with faster, more efficient production of the patented orthopedic nails that have helped surgeons in almost 50 countries across the world repair arm and leg fractures.
Zirkle, the nonprofit's founder and inventor of the nail, and Dillner, SIGN's CEO, will offer an open house and tour of the facility at 451 Hills St., Suite B, in north Richland from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
They also will talk about their recent weeklong trip to Haiti, where they followed up with orthopedic surgeons who are using techniques learned from SIGN to treat people injured in the January 2010 earthquake that devastated the Caribbean island nation.
The visit was uplifting and heart-wrenching for the pair.
"There were many things that were very compelling about this trip," Dillner said.
They said they were proud to see young Haitian orthopedic surgery residents pouring their hearts and souls into helping their patients despite having suffered catastrophic losses of their own.
"They still use their minds and their hands to move forward with orthopedics based on what they were exposed to here at SIGN," Dillner said. "That was very rewarding for us."
But they also were confronted with the somber reminders of what is gone as they watched the surgeons also double as nurses. Two hospitals in Haiti lost their staffs of nurses and nursing instructors when their buildings collapsed in the quake.
"They have a big shortage of nurses now," Zirkle said.
The reality of that was brought home for Dillner when one of the doctors gave her a tour of the place where the residents lived and pointed to a tree where the nursing school used to be.
She realized the doctors pass that tree every day -- and every day see what's no longer there.
"It would be like living in New York City and not seeing the Twin Towers anymore," she said.
Zirkle said it's gratifying for SIGN to give the doctors tools to better help their patients, and with the new machines and the remodel they will get better quality equipment to use in the field.
Before the remodel, it took two machines and eight minutes to produce each nail. But the new manufacturing equipment takes that down to one machine and four minutes, he said.
The new machines also allow the facility to move to a cell model of manufacturing. That means each machinist works on a nail from start to finish, rather than an assembly line model that might have each employee focusing on just one small piece of the manufacturing process.
Zirkle said the new machines produce nails with fewer irregularities.
Overall, the changes will double SIGN's capacity to produce nails and ship them to the 5,000 doctors who SIGN has trained to use the technology in the field.
Dillner said SIGN's mission to bring equality of medical treatment to people across the globe wouldn't be possible without the doctors in the field.
"We're the ones doing the training, but they're the ones pounding the nail, so to speak," she said.
* Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; email@example.com