Most communities would drool over the prospect of attracting companies that make plastic medical implants. Economic development officials trip over themselves to offer financial relocation incentives to these clean, high-technology firms.
But the legal climate in the United States is having the opposite effect - forcing some manufacturers of medical implants out of business and driving others overseas.
According to a column by Dr. Susan Hershberg Adelman in the Aug. 14 American Medical News, published by the American Medical Association, product liability issues are posing ``one of the biggest threats to modern medicine in our generation.''
Some suppliers, including Dow Plastics and DuPont Co., have instructed customers not to use certain raw materials to make implant devices. These resins, including polyurethane, polytetrafluoroethylene, polyacetal and silicone, are used in heart valves, bone replacements, pacemakers, implantable defibrillators and pumps.
Hershberg predicted that unless Congress takes action, some U.S. implant manufacturers, especially small companies, will go out of business.
Moreover, the medical-implant industry probably will move overseas, where the risk of liability is more in synch with potential profit margins.
A congressional conference committee soon will begin work on combining disparate House and Senate bills, passed earlier this year, that offer logical solutions to the liability problem.
Let's hope the committee can take action before opponents, including trial lawyers, and the looming presidential election halt progress on such significant legislation.
Foreign infusion should benefit machine buyers
N orth American plastics processors should be pleased with the trend among Japanese injection machinery suppliers to set up assembly operations in the United States.
Ube Industries Ltd. is the newest participant, but others are sure to follow. Ube recently announced plans to break ground in October on a 50,000-square-foot factory in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Even those suppliers who don't opt for full-blown assembly operations are using more U.S.-made components in an effort to keep prices low.
The decision is a recognition of economic reality. The North American market for imported machines is now large enough for Ube and its brethren to invest in U.S. manufacturing capacity. The strong yen has aggravated the situation, punishing Japanese manufacturers by making their products more expensive in dollar terms.
Machinery suppliers such as Ube will not be pioneers - the multitude of Japanese transplant factories in such diverse markets as automotive and consumer electronics has created a significant market for transplant machinery assemblers.
As the volume of U.S.-assembled/Japanese-nameplate injection presses continues to grow, North American processors can expect the heightened competition in the injection machinery market to keep quality high and prices reasonable among all press makers.