Near and dear
Of course, Unimark had one big advantage - its Greenville plant is just two miles from Span-America headquarters. Unimark would mold all eight plastic components, and buy catheter tubing, the needle and some other parts, do all the assembly, package it up and ship it to Span-America's customers. That meant the medical products firm had no overhead from inventory and shipping.
Another plus: the Secure IV was a new product line that ran into some glitches. Its success required a real partnership instead of a hands-off relationship with someone thousands of miles away.
``We do the complete assembly,'' said Bill Torris, Unimark engineering director of medical devices. ``We do the pack-out. We have it sterilized. We bring it back in-house and we warehouse sterilized components.''
O'Reagan can just drive over to Unimark. ``We're a small company, so it was no small consideration that we would save significantly on travel costs by having them this close,'' O'Reagan said.
The Secure IV has a valve that prevents blood from seeping into the housing. Another feature is protection against accidental needle sticks. The company found that Unimark was the best overall supplier, given the logistics, start-up help and its ability to help design the next-generation IV.
In Greenville, Unimark has a three-phase plan to ramp up dedicated production. Torris said the company established a special room a year ago to assemble the Secure product manually. During a visit late last year, the company was finishing the second phase, a Class 100,000 clean room to increase automation. Phase three, a fully automated assembly cell, is to be completed this year.
Plastic parts, molded in another area, pass through the wall to the Secure IV assembly room.
The Secure IV isn't the only molding and assembly work Unimark has won from competitors in China.
In 2002, Jarden bought Tilia International Inc., the maker of the FoodSaver vacuum packaging appliance. The FoodSaver still is made in China, but Unimark now molds and assembles some accessories.
``We competed with China to do that and we were able to compete favorably with pricing. So we did it here,'' he said.
Watkins uses terms like ``best-solutions'' and ``value-added'' to describe Unimark. Buzzwords? The history of the Ethicon suture tray proves otherwise.
Small but complex, the polypropylene tray holds the needle and the suture. Unimark has made the tray, dubbed the Zipper, for 13 years.
Using the Innovative Solutions design department, Unimark helps Ethicon create new trays. For Zipper II, for example, Unimark added stack molding, then went to a two-piece design that was sonically welded. Unimark added side-entry robots on Zipper III to cut cycle time, followed by in-line welding.
Unimark worked with Mold-Masters Ltd. to design a hot-runner stack-mold manifold system that could be run in a smaller press than previously possible. That change, combined with a smaller, side-entry robot, cut cycle times by 30 percent. Those savings were passed on to Ethicon. The result? Unimark can mold the same parts at about half the cost of the original suture trays made more than a decade ago.
Full automation also plays a starring role in a veterinary syringe mass-produced in Greenville. In a clean room, a 200-ton Netstal Synergy press molds the hollow housings on a 36-cavity mold. A robot with special end-of-arm tooling loads the needles into the mold, then pulls out the insert-molded parts. Another 200-ton Synergy molds the plungers in a 72-cavity stack mold.
An automated system puts safety caps on each needle. The parts move to another machine, where they undergo six high-speed, automated tests for things like leaks and cap pressure.
A new outlook
Employees interviewed during the judging said they think the new management has Unimark moving in the right direction. Glynn Clements, program manager in design engineering, left after 15 years at Unimark and went to Nypro Inc. But he came back three years ago, convinced that Unimark is ready to grow.
Even with the management changes in recent years, the core workforce has lots of experience and stability. The average Unimark employee has 101/2 years on the job; more than 25 percent have worked there 15 years or more.
Unimark also scored points for quality. Its lot-acceptance rate averaged 99.7 percent on more than 3 billion parts shipped in 2002. Unimark said it averages 98-100 percent on-time delivery. Scrap rates are below 1 percent. Two of its plants are registered with the Food and Drug Administration.
Integrating the plastics business is a challenge after the cutlery acquisitions - and possibly more deals to come. Unimark has a new enterprise resource planning system and common resin buying across all its factories.
Watkins said Jarden always is looking at possible acquisitions, plastics or otherwise, if they fit into the overall strategy of ``consumable consumer products.''
That means: ``You're going to buy one, you're going to use it four or five times, or maybe a half-dozen times. You're going to pitch it, or you're going to wear it out or use it up. Then you go buy it again.''
It's a formula that keeps the injection presses running, and the robots humming.