WEINMANN Beginnings: from Precision Engineering to International Medical Technology Company

17/06/2024 Company

Dr. Joachim Griefahn and Marc Griefahn

In 1874, Gottlieb Weinmann founded a small precision engineering company in Ludwigshafen. The idea that this would have developed into an international medical technology company 150 years later was beyond anything he could have dreamed of. 

Today, the company has seven sites around the world, its products are used in over 150 countries and more than 90,000 ventilators are in use. This impressive journey is characterized by innovation and the mission to save lives. Dr. Joachim Griefahn, former Managing Director at Weinmann, took us on a journey back in time and talked to us about the beginnings.

WEINMANN after the Second World War

Until 1956, Gottlieb Weinmann GmbH was a metal construction company with a focus on the production of precision mechanical fittings. Then suddenly Drägerwerk became aware of the company, bought the medical division and the brand and relocated the business to Hamburg. On January 1, 1968, Karl Feldhahn took over the management of WEINMANN and was quick to spot the company’s massive potential. However, he died just two years later, which led first to his wife, and then shortly afterwards their nephew Joachim Griefahn, becoming Managing Director. At the beginning, the primary focus was on oxygen and diving equipment, which the Federal Armed Forces needed to retrieve scrap from the harbors. Yet it didn’t take long for Joachim Griefahn to spot the opportunities that emergency medicine had to offer.

Opportunities in emergency medicine

Due to the increasing amount of car accidents in the 1970s, there was a growing demand for emergency devices. With Griefahn at the helm, WEINMANN developed an innovative emergency case. He was inspired by Karstadt: “It must be possible to develop a light, space-saving version so as to store emergency products some other way rather than in a heavy wooden box. When I discovered a briefcase at Karstadt, I knew this was what I wanted”, Griefahn explained. No sooner said than done – the converted case complete with equipment weighed just 9 kg and a few months later was snapped up by 25 buyers at the emergency congress in Nuremberg.

The first WEINMANN ventilator

Joachim Griefahn in 1982
Joachim Griefahn uses the OXYMAT 1 in 1982

Joachim Griefahn’s instinct for customer needs continued to pay off. When a Norwegian customer was looking for ventilators suitable for ambulances, Griefahn remembered an article on time-controlled ventilators in a French specialist magazine. “We can do that too”, he was sure of it. And he was right: the first MEDUMAT was created and quickly became the norm in ambulances. Even today, the ventilator is still being used. “Shortly after it was introduced, a paramedic told me that, pre-MEDUMAT, she often had to manually ventilate patients for an hour. Unimaginable today”, said Griefahn. When a renowned rescue magazine compared MEDUMAT with the Pullmotor from Dräger and WEINMANN’s device came out on top, success in the emergency medical services was assured. A number of great collaborations followed, for instance with Friedrich Wilhelm Ahnefeld, then head physician at the Federal Armed Forces hospital in Ulm, and the emergency physician Bodo Gorgaß. In 1977, this collaboration was behind the creation of the ULM CASE, which is still used by a lot of organizations today.

The 1980s: successes and challenges

The 1980s were characterized by great successes and challenges. Major orders from the military led to a 70% increase in turnover in the early 1980s, which made it possible to expand the office building. At the same time, several studies were published which showed that COPD patients with a regular oxygen supply live longer. Griefahn obtained a license for an American dosing device (Oxytron) and offered those affected a good alternative to the heavy oxygen concentrators. However, at the end of the 1980s, a new Hospital Financing Act (Krankenhausfinanzierungsgesetz - KHG) presented the company with a challenge: “It was like a curse. For months, physicians were no longer buying emergency cases. And then, just like that, everything went back to normal and the turnover figures increased again”, Griefahn recalls.

New markets and innovations

Advertisement ULM Case
How the ULM case was advertised in the 1980's.

The end of the 1980s brought further success for the company. A group from Marburg wrote a letter asking WEINMANN to develop a sleep apnea therapy device. The company responded to this customer request by launching Somnotron, a therapy device for sleep apnea syndrome and a nasal mask for sleep therapy. 

A further upswing followed after the reunification of Germany, when WEINMANN rapidly expanded in East Germany. At a congress in Brandenburg in 1990, it became clear that East German emergency physicians urgently needed new equipment. Griefahn invited the physicians to Hamburg and quickly impressed them with WEINMANN products. By 1994, 95% of ambulances in East Germany were equipped with WEINMANN ventilators. Nevertheless, the next challenge was just around the corner: “New regulations for pressure reducers made it difficult for our engineers to design them to fit. We were worried that we may not be able to deliver”, recalls Griefahn. Yet WEINMANN cleared this hurdle too.

Looking to the future

2003 marked the end of Joachim Griefahn’s time at WEINMANN. He handed the business over to his son Marc Griefahn to bring “a breath of fresh air” to the company and focus on internationalization. But up to that point, he had shaped WEINMANN’s history with innovative ideas and his commitment to improving people's lives. 

What started out as a small precision engineering company is now a leading medical technology company. WEINMANN is a community that continues to set new standards thanks to togetherness and innovation. “A few years turned into a lifetime”, he says, reflecting on his time at WEINMANN. This sentence sums up the history of the company perfectly – always evolving, but always staying true to its roots as well. “I am certain that WEINMANN will remain an innovative and forward-looking company. Strong togetherness will continue to characterize the company”, Griefahn concluded.

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