Medtronic: A Benchmark for Medical Device Translators

by Translation Guy on March 21, 2010

Medtronic is the world’s largest medical device manufacturer, and it also does a lot of its own translations. So it’s no surprise that the company has become a leader in the translation industry as well, enjoying a reputation for careful attention to ROI and best practice.

Medtronic’s internal translation groups (Technical Literature department in Europe, Global Translation Solutions department in the U.S.) provide translation and localization services to internal customers all over the world. A very diverse and international team of translation specialists, project managers and technical staff work with high-tech localization tools to ensure best-in-class translation services.

I recently had the chance to talk with Micah Bly, Localization Manager at Medtronic Global Translation Solutions, in Minneapolis.

He described a translation strategy that in many ways is unique in the medical device industry. Medtronic uses both internal translation teams and outsourced language service providers to localize and translate lots of different content into lots of different languages. Medtronic’s internal translation teams are staffed at a fixed percentage of peak demand capacity and provide translation and localization services for a set number of key target languages. Because of their volume and workload balancing model, they are able to get best value out of internal resources, and they have also developed the management skills and operational knowledge to stay at the head of the translation pack in the medical device community. And you don’t see a lot of that.  Fact is, most companies that translate for themselves are far outside their core competency and way over their heads, losing money without even knowing it. Not these guys.

The Medtronic model is built around flexibility ― setting up partnerships to manage target languages not covered by internal teams and to fill in for when the workload is above and beyond the call of internal translation duty. That way they never get caught short, either on delivery or in their translation wallet.

“Most of the actual translation work happens at the vendors, with the internal teams adding the extra ‘Medtronic touch’ with additional language QA and product knowledge. There are only a few types of projects where the internal linguists act as front-line translators (software UI and projects with 95% matching, etc.),” says Micah.

“We would have to have an immense pool of people sitting around idle most of the time, if we were going to do the actual translations ourselves. We focus on managing the process, the resources, and, most of all: the quality. We are more serious about translation quality than most companies, because in our case, a bad translation means we could be putting a patient at risk. That fact colors almost every decision we make when designing translation processes.”

Flexible, long-term partnerships with translation providers ensure that the quality of translations stays top-notch no matter who is doing it.

Flexibility is also the key to the Medtronic approach to translation technology. Among the software providers, the Medtronic translation teams are known as tough customers, since they are not about to get locked into a single solution. Medtronic invests in translation workflows, rather than in wider global localization workflow solutions. Their internal client production processes and tool requirements drive their workflow automation requirements, not the other way around.

Sounds like best practice to me. So even for language service providers like us, who are supposed to be the experts, there’s a lot to learn about translation from Medtronic, which does our business as a sideline. Geesh.


  1. Costcoman says:

    Medtronic is kind of like the Google of medical devices though

  2. Franky says:

    Is this the same company who made all the faulty heart defribulators awhile back ?

  3. Michelle says:

    Those doctors should have their credentials stripped from them for submitting faulty reports to a medical equipment company (Medtronic). These companies rely on surgeons to submit truthful data and reports on their new devices or medications that they are developing for review, if these surgeons and doctors are submitting faulty reports and data to these equipment/drug companies just to get that money, then they are putting the patients at risk when and if these new devices or drugs get approved.

    • Ken says:

      “Medtronic made me do it” is a poor defense for some scum-bag lawyer, on top of being a lie. But sad to say, solemn oaths such may help an old lady across the street now and then (the Boy Scount Oath is still my credo…scout’s honor) but its the money that gets people out of bed in the morning. On the other hand, Micheal Jackson was able to buy the kind of medical care he wanted, and look where it got him. In retrospect. You get what you pay for, and I mean that in every sense.

  4. Agreed. No doctor or surgeon needs to be compensated that kind of money to test out any device or medicine being developed. I can understand some compensation, but within reason and on a one time basis only. Not on a continuous basis. These doctors violated their code and should be stripped of their medical licensce, they vow to do no harm to their patients, well they have done harm to many patients, and now they do not deserve to be physicians any longer. It’s time all physicians and health care personnel started obidding by their oaths to first do no harm, if they can not, then they should all get out of their professions. The same goes for politicians, their oaths are to first serve the people, if they can not serve the people, then they should get out.

  5. Paulie says:

    Hmmm, will Google or Medtronic win the MT race?

    • Ken says:

      Paulie, Medtronic is a human-only translation operation. Language automation is about making human translators better at what they do. Google, on the other hand is “aggregating” all the hard work of human translators from Medtronic and everywhere else on the web to more rapidly boost the quality of their engines. That’s how they will win (that and all the servers). I’m posting on Google’s translation thievery soon.

  6. Zombiefreak says:


  7. Doug Hoyns says:

    Can’t trust em, they paid about $850,000 over nearly 10 years to a former Army surgeon accused of forging signatures and falsifying data for a study touting the benefits of one of the company’s implants.

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