Plant Tour: MedPlast pushes medical molding to new heights


Creating a new paradigm for medical molding while creating a new company out of several existing businesses is a challenge only those with industry expertise can take on. After one year, MedPlast is well on its way to success.

There’s nothing like jumping into injection molding with both feet and gaining ground rapidly through acquisitions from the get-go. That was Harold Faig’s philosophy when he and a group of investors simultaneously purchased ATP’s Engineered Rubber & Plastics Group and K&W Medical Specialties in April 2008, forming a world-class manufacturer in the medical device market under the umbrella of MedPlast. The newly created company has manufacturing facilities in Westfield, MA; Tempe, AZ; Elkhorn, WI; West Berlin, NJ; and Monticello, IA.



Top: MedPlast's corporate headquarters are located at this facility in Tempe, AZ, purchased from ATP in April 2008. Bottom: The West Berlin, NJ plant houses a large tooling facility that was recently renovated.



The company's business is built around two focused material niches, thermoplastics and elastomers, which are used in items like multicomponent parts for the healthcare markets.



Like all of MedPlast's facilities, Tempe operates as a cleanroom molding environment.



The quality area at Tempe reflects dedication to its medical GMPs, even during extensive renovation of the plant.



The West Berlin toolroom has recently expanded and added new high-speed CNC machining and EDM with robotic tool-changing capabilities.



Project managment is a critical component in MedPlast's contract manufacturing model, like this group of engineers meeting at the Elkhorn facility.



MedPlast's cleanroom molding facility is the heart of the company's elastomer engineering technology.



All of MedPlast's molding operations are cleanroom-certified like this one in Westfield.



Faig, retired COO of injection molding machinery maker Milacron and former CEO of The Tech Group prior to its sale to West Pharmaceutical, is the CEO of MedPlast, headquartered in Tempe. MedPlast’s management is a bit of a Who’s Who in the plastics industry, including executive VP of sales and marketing Mike Farrell, formerly of Precise/Rexam; Chris Morton, COO, formerly a VP at Flextronics; and Jim Doerr, CFO, formerly with The Tech Group, among others.

A new paradigm

As he sketches an org chart of the various facilities on a white board in the Tempe conference room, Faig makes it clear that MedPlast is not about one facility, but is designed to use the resources of all five locations working in concert to create a custom manufacturing company with a broad reach in a unique niche. MedPlast is an example of what it takes for a contract manufacturer in the plastics industry to succeed: economies of scale with respect to capabilities; a focused dedication to its market; a material niche; and a differentiating business model.

Facilities strategically located to support key healthcare markets around the country are representative of the new contract manufacturing paradigm that addresses the need for engineering-oriented products as well as complex material requirements that involve more than just thermoplastics. Additionally, this approach goes far beyond the “custom molder” model that so many companies adopted in the 1980s. It’s no longer just about having presses or moldbuilding capabilities, diverse markets or lots of customers; success in today’s competitive global climate is dependent on how management captures all of these elements and synchronizes the business to meet the demands and requirements of today’s healthcare OEMs.

“The business of MedPlast is built around two focused material niches—thermoplastics and elastomeric materials,” Faig explains. “That’s the key to how we differentiate MedPlast from the other medical molders.”

Material formulation: A step ahead

MedPlast’s business not only has conventional multicomponent and multimaterial technology, but also moves its business further upstream with its ability to formulate synthetic rubbers and silicones for a wide variety of complex applications. MedPlast’s elastomeric technology specializes in formulating silicones, liquid and gum, and synthetic rubber, such as polyisoprene for tailored applications.

Faig explains that the reason this formulation capability is so important for the healthcare industry is because many products and processes require chemical bonds, not just mechanical ones. For example, a thermoplastic substrate married to an elastomer—such as a handle grip, or some other soft-touch component—can offer the advantage of going into an autoclave for sterilization without separating. “That’s where elastomers shine,” Faig states.

The elastomer technology that each manufacturing plant implements begins at the company’s Elkhorn, WI facility, the heart of the elastomer material engineering technology, where MedPlast employs as many chemists as engineers. There, the company formulates the actual elastomer materials. “We’re able to take the science of the elastomer and apply it in a way that, when combined with thermoplastics in the formula, provides us with the ability to offer unique design elements for the medical industry,” Faig says. “That’s what makes us fundamentally different from everyone else. That’s what I wanted for MedPlast, because that’s an element that’s missing in other molding companies.”

Between all five plants, MedPlast has more than 750 employees. The facilities range from 45,000-70,000 ft2. All five of the MedPlast facilities will be ISO 13485 compliant by mid-2009, and each facility has a culture emphasizing Six Sigma and lean.
An expansion of the company’s West Berlin, NJ mold manufacturing facility was announced at the recent MD&M/Plastec West show in Anaheim, CA. That plant specializes in highly complex molds serving the healthcare and select industrial markets, and recently added new high-speed CNC machining centers and EDMs with robotic tool-changing capabilities. During the upgrade, the plant was redesigned to optimize efficient work planning and further focus on clean manufacturing processes—an absolute necessity to comply with current healthcare standards.

The Tempe facility is being renovated to accommodate Class 100,000 and 10,000 cleanroom molding operations, a mold manufacturing, maintenance, and repair department, and quality and engineering. Even the mold department will be a cleanroom environment like the moldmaking facility in West Berlin.

True to MedPlast’s business model, the West Berlin company is an established leader in precision molds for multishot, multimaterial, overmolded applications. Mold types range from two-shot/multimaterial to rotating stack, shuttle, vertical, and molds that can provide other inmold capabilities such as assembly and labeling. The tools range from two to 16 cavities for processing efficiency and allow for smaller-footprint machines on the production floor.

“MedPlast West Berlin is one of the largest dedicated multicomponent facilities in North America,” states Faig. “We’re focusing on materials such as PEEK and reabsorbables to elevate the technology and create a company with an engineering platform based on advanced multicomponent and material technology.”

In addition to specializing in liquid and gum silicone, black rubber, and synthetic polyisoprene, the Elkhorn facility works on a variety of manufacturing processes that help improve overall healthcare manufacturing cleanliness. “We’ve developed a chlorinating process that allows us not only to improve the cleanliness and consistency of the parts, but also to get rid of the silicone spray process that was required for treating surfaces of elastomer parts,” Faig says.

Laying some of the unique silicone and synthetic rubber parts on the table, Faig points to one cup-shaped component about a half-inch in diameter. The unidentified piece is a healthcare part that consists of silicone molded between two pieces of cloth. Currently, MedPlast is developing a device and formulating the material to hold a drug that is impregnated into the plastic. “That’s where healthcare is today and that’s exactly what we’re doing at MedPlast,” states Faig.

The company’s manufacturing model is one in which material development can be perfected at one of its plants and moved to any of its other facilities, depending on where the customer is located or needs the components molded.

Integrating five facilities

MedPlast’s ability to provide a total integrated manufacturing solution for complex applications, offering moldmaking, materials and compound formulation, design, fabrication, assembly, and packaging comes with good management systems integration. Managing all of these facilities as if they were one is facilitated by a plantwide management system from IQMS, interconnected with each plant.

Companywide, MedPlast has approximately 250 molding machines ranging from 28-1000 tons. Approximately 80% of them support the healthcare business. In addition to conventional presses, MedPlast Elkhorn has processes that include injection, compression, and compression transfer molding.

MedPlast Monticello has the large-tonnage presses, and is the one facility in the group that has very little healthcare business. However, plans are under way to change that. “We have some legacy business at that facility, but because it’s one of the few large-part facilities that is 13485 compliant, the plan is to focus on large parts for medical diagnostics equipment such as housings,” Faig says.

Of the five plants, West Berlin, Tempe, Elkhorn, and Monticello produce healthcare components that are geometrically prismatic. However, MedPlast Westfield—formerly K&W Medical Specialties—specializes in high-volume, clear, cylindrical medical components using materials such as PET and PC. Westfield, like Tempe and West Berlin, is also going through a major renovation wherein the manufacturing facility is being converted to Class 100,000 and 10,000 cleanrooms.

The future looks bright for MedPlast as it moves forward to meet the challenges of an ever-changing healthcare environment in a unique relationship with its OEM customers. Says Mike Farrell, “We are extremely focused on our target healthcare markets, and that focus is reflected in MedPlast’s investments in its facilities, and expansion of its engineering and technical capabilities, as well as eight experienced healthcare sales people to support our $100 million annual business.”  [email protected]

Vital Stats

MedPlast, Tempe, AZ; Westfield, MA; Elkhorn, WI; West Berlin, NJ; Monticello, IA

Facility size: 45,000-70,000 ft2

Markets served: Medical

Materials processed: Thermoplastics and elastomers (liquid silicone, synthetic polyisoprene, black rubber, and gum silicone)

No. of employees: ~750 total

Shifts: Varies per plant

Molding machines: 250, 28-1000 tons; 22 in Tempe, 40-400 tons, Toyo and Engel

Molding technology: Two-shot, two-material, vertical, compression, LSR, rotating stack, shuttle molding

Other services: Elastomeric material development and formulation, product engineering

Internal moldmaking: Yes

Quality: ISO 13485 compliant by mid-2009

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