In 1994, Boyz II Men and Whitney Houston were in a virtual tie for the most popular song of the year, “I’ll Make Love to You” and "I Will Always Love You,” respectively; Forrest Gump was the top grossing film (and, in a strange echo with the present day, The Lion King was number two); the United States hosted the FIFA World Cup for the first time; and John H. Schmitz and his son, John M. Schmitz, founded Aberdeen Technologies, a supplier of molded plastic components. Aberdeen is celebrating a quarter century of success this year, and while it started out molding parts for a cross-section of sectors, including automotive and consumer goods, the founders’ expertise in medical molding predestined the company’s rapid success.
|Three generations of the Schmitz family keep things running at Aberdeen Technologies.|
John H. Schmitz was Senior Vice President of a major medical device manufacturing company prior to co-founding Aberdeen, while his son John M. had been selling turnkey manufacturing systems to device manufacturers. They pooled their expertise in 1994 and began molding parts out of a rented space in a warehouse in Glendale Heights, IL. Only two years later, the business had grown to the point where they needed to relocate to a larger facility in Carol Stream, IL, where Aberdeen remains today. It currently has approximately 400 feet of cleanroom space and operates six presses—three of the 25-ton vertical insert molding machines are situated inside the cleanroom, which has space for a fourth press.
A medical molding first
You might say the technological foundations of Aberdeen were laid back in 1983. John M. Schmitz was working at Illinois Precision Corp., selling turnkey molding systems to medical device manufacturers, when an engineer from Baxter Edwards asked him about the feasibility of molding a multi-lumen heart catheter. “Up until that time, companies were mainly gluing tubing onto manifolds,” Schmitz told PlasticsToday. “However, he wanted to try over molding the individual extension lumens directly into a manifold. We built a prototype mold, successfully molded clinical samples and went on to provide a full manufacturing cell for cleanroom production. A variation of this product still runs to this day,” said Schmitz.
|Molded multi-lumen catheter.|
The next milestone came a couple of years later, when the first Medical Design and Manufacturing (MD&M) trade show debuted in the ballroom of the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, CA. (Since then, MD&M has grown into the largest annual event of its kind in the Americas, filling the Anaheim Convention Center with a number of co-located shows, including PLASTEC West. It is organized by Informa Markets, which also produces PlasticsToday.) Schmitz brought a 25-ton vertical molding machine to the event, “the first piece of equipment to ever appear at the show.” There was some discussion initially about letting him run the machine on the show floor, but Schmitz ultimately got the green light and the “setup was a huge success, with dozens of medical device manufacturers interested in our insert molding technology. In addition to catheters, molded needles also became one of our specialties,” said Schmitz.
Consequently, when he and his father started Aberdeen in 1994, they already had a “wealth of knowledge to bring to the table, but also manufacturing experience that we helped pioneer and perfect that competitors are not necessarily able to provide,” said Schmitz.
Molding parts for medical device OEMs can't be an afterthought
Over the years, Aberdeen has adapted to a stream of regulatory and technological changes in the medical device industry, but Schmitz attributes its continued success to a commitment to certain core principles. First and foremost, he said, is a willingness to "go all in. Medical products cannot be an afterthought, something you just add to your product portfolio. You either live and breathe it, or you don’t,” said Schmitz.
|Aberdeen has approximately 400 feet of cleanroom space.|
One significant advantage Aberdeen has vis à vis competitors, added Schmitz, is the ability to design and build tooling in house. “Bill Walter, our Engineering Manager, and I have worked together for over 45 years. When we receive a drawing or file for a new medical device that needs quoting, sometimes we don’t even have to say a word to each other—just a look conveys that we know what will be required to perform to customer expectations. It is almost second nature, yet the joy and excitement of taking on a new project still remains,” Schmitz told PlasticsToday.
The “joy and excitement” show no signs of abating, as Aberdeen leans into its 26th year of operation. Moreover, with the recent addition of John David Schmitz to the team, “Aberdeen now has three generations working in the business.” As it celebrates its first quarter century, the company has renewed its vows to be a “one-stop shop for its customers providing solutions for device prototyping, mold designs, production runs and parts for first article approval.”