Adopting new manufacturing technology entails a risk for both molder and customer, and makes it even more important that they trust each other, according to officials of Unimark Plastics and Ethicon Inc.
Plastics Encounter Southeast attendees learned how the companies developed several generations of a small plastic tray that holds medical sutures and a needle used to sew up wounds, in a March 24 presentation. The presenters were Unimark President Curt Watkins and Bob Cerwin, an engineering fellow at Ethicon's Advanced Packaging Development and Graphics Technology group.
Unimark, based in Greenville, S.C., has molded the suture tray, dubbed the Zipper, for 14 years. Unimark has added stack molding, side entry and in-line welding to help Ethicon develop several new versions of the tray. Today, the manufacturing process is fully automated.
Watkins and Cerwin focused on the ``soft'' side of collaboration: relationships and working together. Watkins said molder and customer must have ``fair and equitable contracts,'' but he said a long-term relationship is based on more than a document fashioned by lawyers. ``People deal with people,'' he said.
The first suture trays were paper. The Somerville, N.J.-based company, turned to plastic to get a better tray.
Cerwin said Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson company, wanted a plastics supplier with vision, one not afraid to take risks. He said Ethicon officials had some adversarial supplier relationships, and were looking for a partner that could help improve the design over the long run.
Ethicon has taken key Unimark people to watch surgery to see how the suture tray is used. Unimark employees also tour Ethicon plants. In return, Unimark teaches Ethicon about plastic molding.
``The customer needs to see the supplier's business, and the supplier needs to see the customer's business,'' Cerwin said.