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June 1, 2003

5 Min Read
Plastics molding, MIM under one roof


Something new has been added to MedSource Corry and to the molding industry itself. The company has installed this new 30,000-sq-ft plastics medical molding operation in the same plant that precision molds parts out of powder metal feedstocks.


In addition to a studded drywall separating plastics molding from precision MIM, pictured here, MedSource Corry separates the controlled atmospheres of its two-in-one operations to prevent any cross-contamination.

MedSource welcomes home plastics to its metal injection molding plant,and brings lean thinking and Six Sigma in-house to streamline the process.

Long before going public on March 28, 2002, MedSource Technologies Inc. (Minneapolis, MN) planned to maximize value by consolidating the majority of its medical injection molding capacity into a single site. Last year it operated three molding plants in separate locations. It now operates one major medical molding facility at a single location, and this operation is unlike any consolidation the molding business has ever seen.

As previously reported, MedSource is a single-source supplier of engineering, product development, manufacturing services, and supply-chain management solutions to the medical device market. Since its inception in 1999, MedSource has grown into a $180 million-plus company largely by acquiring and integrating several business units that were already successful in their own right. (See August 2000 IMM, for an initial report.)

MedSource has given the term “single source” new meaning. MedSource Danbury (CT—formerly custom molder Tenax) and MedSource Pittsfield (MA—the medical business of custom molder/moldmaker Apex Engineering) have been moved to MedSource Corry (PA—formerly Thermat Precision Technology), a precision metal injection molding (MIM) facility.

Both units are up and running. Each is shipping product every day. What’s more, work has begun to combine precision MIM and plastic parts, further merging MedSource’s value streams. Though there’s a wall separating the two very different molding processes, there’s no separation of management powers.

Reduced Operational Leverage
MedSource executives realized that putting all of its molding capacity in one location would create a support infrastructure that helps it service customers more effectively than it could have done spread out.

“We have successfully increased our operational leverage now that we are running one plant instead of three,” says Bill Ellerkamp, VP of market development.

“And we also have leveraged our staff and management team, one that was already in place with some 190-odd years of combined plastics experience. This provides additional support. We have leveraged our existing MIM facility as well, so our overall operating overhead is down.”

Of equal importance, Ellerkamp says the consolidation has made MedSource Corry more attractive to customers. “It’s a state-of-the-art facility. For touring customers, it immediately becomes apparent that this is a high-quality medical engineering and manufacturing operation.”

The 30,000 sq ft that now houses the plastics operation was once just empty space. The facility now has a full 65,000-sq-ft buildout.

“This has allowed us to evaluate doing more secondary operations, and that’s a key part of MedSource’s value proposition to our customers: full service,” Ellerkamp says. “When customers come to us for a part, we are able to show them that we can take on all the operations—including molding, pad printing, application of adhesive, and semiautomated assembly, right up to packaging.”

Merging Management
Was it difficult merging plastics molding and MIM? Not really, says Shawn Gross, manager of MedSource Corry’s new product development group, which oversees both units.

“A lot of our engineering staff was already highly qualified to mold plastics,” he says. “We’d mostly been hiring former plastics engineers. Getting involved again in plastics molding was almost like coming home for most of them, with no more debinding and sintering to worry about.”

MedSource Corry’s precision-MIM operation reportedly continues to produce parts at the same world-class level of quality it always has. Its MIM parts are molded to tolerances within ±.0005 inch, to four Sigma limits in most dimensions, and to a Cpk of 1.33.

There still are no machining secondaries on the floor, since most parts require no post-mold finishing. And its MIM parts are still molded from the company’s proprietary water-soluble feedstocks compounded in-house.

“Our engineering department has maintained the same sort of philosophies in both plastics and MIM,” says Keith Reiland, director of engineering. “It’s been a relatively easy transition for us. We’ve moved more than 175 molds to Corry—that’s been pretty grueling—but it’s been no more than just growing pains.”

Merging Lean and Six Sigma
A wall is the most permanent fixture separating plastics from metal molding. The atmospheres in each area are segregated to prevent ultrafine metal powders from cross-contaminating the plastics, and the plastics-controlled molding environment is fully climate-controlled with a dedicated air-handling system.

Though it’s not yet a certified cleanroom, the plastics molding operation is in a positive-pressure-controlled environment. Full cleanroom garb is required for entry and no cardboard or wood is allowed on the floor.

Ellerkamp says MedSource is presently launching a company-wide program that combines elements of Six Sigma and lean thinking with Malcolm Balridge award criteria. It has hired Rolf Dahl, formerly of Cummins Power Generation Americas Operations, as VP of quality and business excellence to lead this initiative.

“We recently trained a senior executive group of 35 in Six Sigma methodologies, and are now identifying black belts to conduct corporate-wide Six Sigma training beginning in July,” Ellerkamp says. “Our initial program will train 15 black belts, including one from each function and facility.”

Meanwhile, in addition to the Corry consolidation, MedSource Technologies recently announced another molding-related enhancement. In March it added medical-grade ETP micromolding capabilities to its Class 100,000 cleanroom manufacturing operations in Brooklyn Park, MN.

“MedSource Brooklyn Park has a strong precision metal-machining component platform,” says Richard J. Effress, MedSource’s chairman and CEO. “Now we have the technology to overmold the plastics that surround metal components. This bundled, comprehensive capability will allow us to provide more value-added services, and help accelerate our growth with key EMI [electromedical implant] customers.”

Contact information
MedSource Technologies Inc.
Minneapolis, MN
Rebekah Bryant; (952) 807-1223
www.medsourcetech.com

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