Helix Medical LLC has opened a 55,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Germany, its first medical plant in the European market. The plant will be the cornerstone of the company's newly formed Helix Medical Europe KG operations.
It gets us closer to our European customers and expands our global footprint, said Thomas Vassalo, executive vice president of global business development, in a Feb. 9 interview at the Medical Design & Manufacturing West show in Anaheim. We have manufacturing in the U.S. and in China; it made sense to have manufacturing in Europe.
The plant will double the company's silicone manufacturing capacity. Helix Medical is the health-care products division of Freudenberg-NOK GP, based in Plymouth, Mich.
The Kaiserslautern, Germany, facility began limited operations in January. It is currently doing silicone injection molding for customized projects involving dialysis products and blood-separation products, said Mark Ostwald, general manager of Helix Medical Europe. He said the plant, located in a Freudenberg-NOK complex of buildings, will start silicone extrusion operations and thermoplastic molding operations by midyear, and thermoplastic extrusion operations by the end of 2010.
Production will be only for European markets, which Helix had been serving from other locations, he said.
This is the next step in our global strategy, Ostwald said. We can now offer products in the U.S., Asia and Europe with plants in local markets, and that makes us a truly global company. We had wanted to make an acquisition in Europe, but Helix was unable to find the right company.
Clean room production at the new plant will differ from that commonly done in the U.S. Ostwald said. In Kaiserslautern, silicone injection molding machines will be on the outside of the clean room, but attached. It reduces energy and investment costs and it makes it much easier to replace tools, Ostwald said. That type of configuration is a very common concept in Europe.
The plant currently operates three injection presses, but Ostwald said that by the end of 2010, it will have 11 presses ranging from 80-320 tons. It also will have five extruders in a second clean room within the plant. He said the plant will also have its own tool shop for silicone molding, and is likely to employ 50 people by year's end.
The company may also do some micromolding in the area of 10 tons.
Ostwald said Helix Medical Europe intends to capitalize on the company's medical experience and the lean manufacturing and supply-chain management knowledge that its parent company has gained from its automotive business.
The economic malaise didn't deter the company from expanding, he said.
Jorg Schneewind, president and CEO of Helix Medical LLC, said, The fact that we were able to build on the infrastructure of an existing facility owned by our parent company, Freudenberg, created a tremendous opportunity for European expansion.
Helix Medical is focused on the medical-device, drug-delivery, health-care, pharmaceutical and biotech industries and specializes in thermoplastic and silicone medical-device components and subassemblies.
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