Plastics companies in China have long targeted the country's biggest fast-growth industries automotive, construction and consumer electronics. Now, with a boom in health-care consumption throughout Asia, medical applications are heating up and manufacturers of medical plastics are seizing the opportunity.
``As the economy continues to mature and the consumer demands better products, they need better suppliers,'' said Andy Robertson, international division manager at Zeus Industrial Products Inc., an Orangeburg, S.C.-based extruder of medical tubing.
``There are big opportunities now in the China market,'' said Robertson, who was interviewed during Medtec China, held Sept. 9-11 in Shanghai.
China is the third-largest consumer of medical devices, according to a report from Research and Markets of Dublin, Ireland. China imported $580 million in medical devices from the United States in 2007, an 11.5 percent increase over the previous year, as well as $350 million from Germany and $330 million from Japan, the report said.
With the growing market in Asia, plastics processors have seen their customers and suppliers start operations on the ground in China.
While the opportunities are large, Zeus remains reluctant to move any manufacturing into China. The company has a sales office in Guangzhou, one of seven campuses it operates globally.
``We have a lot of proprietary technology,'' Robertson said. ``We're extruding tubes the size of a hair.''
While the demand for high-end products is growing, breaking into the China market is not a breeze for new companies. For example, it took GW Plastics Inc. of Bethel, Vt., several years to find its niche in Asia.
``Everyone who comes to China gets an education,'' said Benjamin Bouchard, GW's vice president of international market development. ``Over the past three years we've gotten much more specific in our aims, and the results are promising.''
The injection molder of precision medical components and devices has a manufacturing facility in Dongguan, China, where it recently upgraded its clean room molding and assembly area from Class 100,000 to Class 8.
GW found that targeting customers that moved to China for cost-cutting purposes alone did not pay off, Bouchard said.
``We're looking for experienced customers in China that recognize that we add value,'' he said.
A combination of the company's new strategy and expansion of the market has Bouchard looking toward a bright future.
``As our plant reaches capacity, we will probably expand with another location farther north in China,'' he said.