Nick Walker Q and A

Posted on 29 February 2024

Nick, could you share some of your earliest experiences or interests that sparked your passion for research and development?

Nick WalkerNick Walker
Head of Product Development

Product design and R&D are primarily about solving problems, clearly understanding user needs, and thinking about clever ways to achieve a particular technical outcome. When I was 16, I owned a moped, a cheap and easy way to be independently mobile. The bike itself was restricted to around 35mph, and the continual challenge with all my friends was to try to understand ways to remove the restrictions and have the fastest moped in town. Most weekends, I tried all sorts of mechanical modifications to lift the top speed to something more impressive. YouTube wasn’t around then, so the whole approach was very much a trial and error, learning by mistakes and trying alternatives.

After many adjustments over the summer months, I finally managed to get the bike up to a respectable top speed of around 45mph. I remember feeling a great sense of achievement, which sparked something inside me. It was then that I decided I wanted to pursue a career in engineering.

What inspired you to pursue a career in R&D, and were there any pivotal moments or mentors who influenced your decision?

Growing up, my Dad was always a “can do” chap with tremendous drive and resilience in getting things done. As a boy, I watched him problem-solve, shadowing him, maintaining cars and motorbikes and repairing domestic products around the home. This shaped how I thought and approached challenges in life, inspiring me to develop engineering skills to make a difference in the world.

Can you highlight some recent projects or initiatives within the R&D department that you're particularly proud of?

Firstly, I am truly honoured to lead such a talented team of engineers. It's wonderful to see the group develop into a world-class R&D department. I am proud of many areas and all the projects the team has embraced. Orion WP has been a particularly positive story. I asked the team to revisit our design intent, exploring new ways to simplify our approach. I proudly watched the team use our Blatchford values, exploring innovation, learning and using real courage to step away from the original scope. We launched the refreshed device and some excellent new branding in September 2023, 4 months earlier than originally planned. Since the launch, we have seen sales grow by over 30%, and our product return rates drop dramatically. A great result and a real success story for the R&D/Operations team.

“We will continue to drive innovation, execute our projects quickly, and bring efficient product designs to the market.”

How does Blatchford develop our innovation within R&D, and what new strategies can we look out for?

Developing our Innovation muscle is hugely important to us, and we recognise that we need to innovate to stay ahead and beat the competition.

This year, we are putting in additional effort to develop our innovation culture further. We have accessed some very insightful data in our Great Places to Work survey. One significant fact was that over 80% of our engineers wanted more time working on new or creative ideas.

This was amazing to hear, and we have encouraged this further by launching several brand-new initiatives. From April onwards, we will empower all our R&D engineers, giving them improved freedom and autonomy to learn about possible innovation opportunities. We are excited about this investment and looking forward to a potential new pipeline of ideas we can use on our product roadmap next year and beyond.

What role do emerging technologies play in shaping the future direction of R&D within Blatchford?

The additive technology space is always attractive, and the R&D team closely monitors the technology as it develops. Additive technology, also known as 3D printing, has significantly advanced in recent years. However, its future development holds even greater potential. With ongoing research and innovation, we expect to see improved printing speed, resolution, and material compatibility. All these advancements will help us develop more competitively priced devices and remove unwanted weight, providing a real competitive advantage.

In your opinion, What are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing R&D in the prosthetics and orthotics industry today?

The competition is challenging, and we are up against some big players in the O&P space. These organisations are cash-rich and have significant resources available. However, these facts do not faze us and merely strengthen our focus on what we need to achieve. We must continue to lift our game, bring clarity to our thinking and define our requirements with care, delivering improved clinical benefits. We will continue to drive innovation, execute our projects quickly, and bring efficient product designs to the market. After all, David did beat Goliath!!

What hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?

When I get some spare time, I like nothing more than sitting on the side of a commercial fishing lake and catching fish. Peace and quiet, with little to worry about for a few hours.