About seven years after it closed a U.S. dialysis component injection molding and assembly plant, Gambro AB has begun plans to resume production of the artificial kidney devices in the United States.
Gambro broke ground May 3 for a new 100,000-square-foot production facility in Opelika, Ark. The operation should start production in mid-2008, said Gambro spokeswoman Anne Bonelli in a telephone interview from Gambro's U.S. head office in Lakewood, Colo.
The plant will make dialyzers: hollow, fiber-filled filters that act as a human kidney during hemodialysis. Dialyzers are composed of an injection molded plastic housing and a polymer filter media.
Gambro officials would not disclose how many injection presses will be installed in Opelika, but they said the new plant will have capacity to make about 10 million dialyzers annually.
In 1999, Gambro of Stockholm, Sweden, closed a 20-press injection molding plant in Newport News, Va., and related manufacturing operations in Oklahoma City and Lakewood. The firm then said it was restructuring its renal-care business unit to control costs. It moved production of dialyzers to Europe and Mexico.
Company officials said at the time that the 1999 shutdowns were not related to problems Gambro had in 1998 with tubing made in its Tijuana, Mexico, operation. At least four deaths were blamed on defective dialysis tubing. Flashing blocked tubing, causing damage to blood cells, which led to abdominal pain, cyanosis and chest pain. Gambro said it corrected tubing problems by the third quarter of 1998.
Gambro will resume U.S. dialyzer production because ``some of our largest customers are in the United States,'' said Gambro's vice president of corporate communications, Paula Treutiger. ``It makes sense to make them there.''
A key U.S. customer is DaVita Inc., Treutiger said in a telephone interview from Stockholm. DaVita of El Segundo, Calif., bought Gambro's U.S. dialysis clinics last year and made Gambro the preferred supplier of dialysis systems.
Treutiger said a U.S. plant also will help Gambro hedge against U.S. currency exchange shifts vs. Sweden's krona.
``We're better prepared if we're in the U.S.,'' she explained.
Key polymers used to make Gambro's dialyzers are polyarylether sulfone, nylon, polyurethane, polycarbonate and polyvinyl pyrrolidone.
Bonelli said the Opelika project is unaffected by a recent takeover offer for Gambro. Two Swedish investment firms, Investor AB and Indap AB, have made a cash offer for Gambro that expires May 10. Gambro is a public company with annual sales of about $2 billion.
Meanwhile, Gambro is finishing an expansion of its Meyzieu, France, plant.