Engel event examines medical manufacturing in a changing business landscape

I have attended a few technology events at Engel’s West Coast Technical Center in Corona, CA, over the last couple of years, and they are always worthwhile. Apparently, folks in the industry agree with me, as they are well attended. Sure, there is a bit of company cheerleading—not that there’s anything wrong with that—but the folks at Engel do make an effort to bring in some outside speakers with expertise on given topics. Yesterday’s Technology Symposium—day one of a two-day event—fit that mold (pun intended). Medical manufacturing was the focus on Tuesday; the theme shifted today to packaging applications.

Mornings are devoted to the presentations; following lunch, the several dozen attendees are invited to watch some of the machines in action and engage with a handful of partner companies participating in a tabletop exhibition.

On Tuesday, Markus Lettau, Engel North America Director of Sales, West Region, welcomed attendees with a brief overview of the privately held company, now being run by a fourth generation of family members.

Engel West Coast tech centerJeff Hershey, Business Unit Manager—Medical, North America, discussed innovations introduced by Engel that deliver “value-added performance.” He stressed that Engel provides supporting technologies to its medical customers by getting “involved with toolmakers and automation partners as early as possible.” One example on the showroom floor was a production cell incorporating an e-motion 170/100 T injection molding unit and a Hekuflex system developed by automation integrator Hekuma. The cell produces an all-plastic interdental brush that is molded as a single component, including the soft bristles. It had its world premiere at K 2016 and was shown for the first time in North America at PLASTEC West in Anaheim, CA, in February. The brush, named scrub!, will hit the market later this year. For a detailed description of the unit, read “Engel’s brush with greatness to be showcased at PLASTEC West."

Hershey also drew attention to the “20 to 25% growth over the last several years” of liquid-silicone rubber (LSR) applications, stressing that Engel has more than 35 years of experience in that field and a long record of working with key industry suppliers of related materials, dosing systems and nozzles. Medical applications include needle-free valves and a finger implant where the LSR is used to make a living hinge.

Visit Engel and numerous other companies in the plastics processing supply chain at PLASTEC Cleveland, part of the Advanced Design & Manufacturing (ADM) Cleveland event, on March 29 and 30, 2017. On one show floor, Advanced Design & Manufacturing (ADM) Cleveland showcases five zones—packaging, automation and robotics, design and manufacturing, plastics and medical manufacturing. Go to the ADM Cleveland website to learn more and to register to attend.

Jan Nietsch, Business Development Manager at Hekuma, displayed some of his company’s automation innovations in the medical arena. Medical-related projects account for almost half of Hekuma’s business, and things are going very well, indeed: The company is building a new facility in Germany near the Munich airport, which will double its current production capacity. The plant is scheduled to open later this year.

Joachim Kragl, Director of Advanced Molding Systems & Processing, took a deep dive into Engel’s iQ weight, clamp and flow control product line, part of its larger inject 4.0 program.

Two guest speakers addressed the medical manufacturing theme of the day from different vantage points. Robert Schwenker, Business Manager, Medical Components, at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics spoke to the role of regulatory affairs in the medical device value chain. One interesting point he made was that suppliers to medical device OEMs need to take greater ownership of what have been traditionally considered regulatory issues. Outsourcing in medical is growing at around 10%, he said, which outpaces projected growth for the medtech sector as a whole, but suppliers need to be aware that “OEMs are looking to distribute risk in quality and regulatory matters.”

Perry de Fazio, Vice President of investment banking firm Covington Associates, also had some encouraging information for contract manufacturers: The changing market landscape for medical device companies, with an emphasis on value-based business models and continuum of care, has  changed medtech OEMs’ attitude toward contract manufacturers, which they now see as integral to business success. To succeed, however, suppliers must “look more like their customers in terms of organizational alignment and innovation,” said de Fazio.

Look for articles specifically about de Fazio and Schwenker’s presentations coming soon to PlasticsToday.

The Technology Symposium moves to the company’s North American headquarters in York, PA, on April 26 and 27.

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