Despite barriers to entry, the medical-device industry offers major growth opportunities, according to panelists at a MassPlastics seminar.
Leominster, Mass.-based injection molder Mar-Lee Cos. Inc. has embraced the medical-device industry as a big growth opportunity.
``The medical-device business is a $5 billion business, so why do I have to go overseas for business? I would rather find a way to be a supplier for this industry,'' Mar-Lee President John Gravelle said at MassPlastics, held March 30-31 in Fitchburg.
Tom Sommer, president of MassMedic - formally known as the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council - held a seminar at MassPlastics to back that claim. The group comprises executives from more than 300 companies in the medical-device industry.
``The average shelf life of a medical-device product is two to three years. By that time, it is improved or there is a new approach,'' Sommer said.
Massachusetts has the second-largest concentration of medical-device makers in the country, trailing only Minnesota, he said. In 2004, Massachusetts had more than 220 medical-device manufacturers, with $5 billion in annual sales. They employed 21,000 workers and exported $1.8 billion worth of goods in 2003.
Medical devices range from bedpans to multimillion-dollar diagnostic machines. Companies with rapid prototyping and product-development skills can do well in the market, Sommer said.
Another booster was David McKeehan, president of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, which hosted MassPlastics. He said 10 member companies are molding medical components and at least 10 more plan to enter the field.
``Five years ago they didn't see plastics as part of the equation to bring products to market, but there now seems to be heightened awareness of the utility of plastics,'' McKeehan said.
That all seems to be helping companies such as Mar-Lee, which according to Gravelle had $15.2 million in overall sales last year and is heading for $20 million this year. Mar-Lee did its first medical molding in 2000, according to Gravelle, and last year used three work cells to produce 45 million units. A fourth work cell will be added this year, boosting production to 60 million units.
Getting into the competitive market is not easy, as Mar-Lee has spent more than $5 million upgrading equipment and facilities the past three years, Gravelle said.