Tech Group Inc. has plenty of experience molding parts for the medical industry. However, when it started planning for its new facility in Walker, the company opted to dedicate about one-third of the 111,000-square-foot building to Class 8 clean room production, with molding, assembly and two quality-assurance labs capable of hitting that standard.
``This is the only all-clean-room facility in the company,'' said President Robert Hargesheimer during an interview at the recent official opening for the new plant. ``This is our flagship.''
Tech Group, the Scottsville, Ariz.-based molding unit of West Pharmaceutical Services Co., spent $17.3 million to build a new molding facility that has nearly double the space of its previous location in nearby Grand Rapids, Mich. And it built a site created from the ground up to meet the strict manufacturing requirements of an ISO-certified Class 8 clean room - also referred to as Class 100,000.
The injection molding clean room was designed with an 8-foot by 8-foot tunnel below the floor to house water pipes, electrical lines, resin and other materials. Each line is connected directly at each of the 41 presses through a sealed sending unit.
Pass-through windows with air vacuum seals are located next to each press for finished parts, which aids in clean production and improves material flow, since everything previously had to be transferred to one central door.
``We certainly did medical parts before, but not at this level,'' said plant manager Mark Palmer.
The Walker plant makes integral parts for a variety of medical equipment, including emergency kits used when a patient is in cardiac arrest. The components made there are used in intravenous lines employed by hospitals globally, and the site turns out enough to supply half the IVs used in the United States each year.
The site also has Class 8 and Class 7 assembly rooms.
Manufacturing regulations keep increasing for the health-care industry, so making the investment in equipment now prepares Tech for the next generation of requirements, said Donald Morel, chairman and chief executive officer of West Pharmaceutical.
``We made a conscious decision to build-in the extra clean room environment,'' he said.
Even parts that may not require that level of manufacturing now may need it within a few years.
``Certainly the standards in the industry and going up and up,'' Hargesheimer said.
The bulk of the molding equipment - including presses with clamping forces of 28-300 tons - has moved from the Grand Rapids plant to the Walker site, Palmer said, with assembly equipment still in transition.
Tech Group's 75 employees also have made the move, and the company expects to add about 100 jobs at the site. The firm also has room to expand.
The company has been growing since its 2005 acquisition by West Pharmaceutical. Publicly traded West, based in Lionsville, Pa., looked to Tech to boost its abilities in making high-end plastic parts for the health-care industry.
At the same time, Tech wanted to boost its exposure in consumer products.
West is targeting both markets for contracts that are less likely to have to be transferred to other countries, Morel said.