For the second time in four years, Plas-Tech Engineering Inc. is dramatically increasing the amount of its injection molding equipment, building on the success and growth of its medical business.
In the last 18 months, the Lake Geneva, Wis., company has added five all-electric JSW injection molding machines ranging from 60-200 tons of clamping force, and ordered equipment for an in-house toolroom that it expects to be operating by year's end.
The investment brings the company's capacity to 13 presses, ranging from 40-300 tons of clamping force. In its last expansion, four years ago, Plas-Tech moved into a new 21,000-square-foot facility and doubled its number of presses to six.
We will have the capacity to do twice as much business, said Scott Smith, vice president of sales and marketing. We're expanding and positioned for 50 percent growth over the next 12 months.
The changes are designed to further fuel its expansion into medical which now accounts for all of its revenue compared with 70 percent four years ago. The two smaller presses are designed to do sample work and speed design-to-product turnaround time, Smith said.
Founded as a mold design firm in 1990, Plas-Tech launched into manufacturing in 1999 with three presses and made products for automotive, industrial, electronics and medical markets. But five years ago, founder and President Aaron Hirschmann made the decision to switch completely to medical, a transformation the firm completed this year. The plant itself is a white room and has a Class 100,000 clean room within it.
Plas-Tech concentrates on complex highly engineered plastic components for a number of medical markets including disposables, diagnostic consumables, surgical devices and medical-device components for surgical and monitoring equipment with product and material innovations being one of its hallmarks.
In late May, for example, Tactical Medical Solutions Inc. of Anderson, S.C., introduced a modular tracheotomy surgical device designed and made by Plas-Tech that is the first to combine the hook and blade into a single structure.
There are polycarbonate handles for both the hook and the blade, the first time the hook handle has been made of plastic for such a device, according to Plas-Tech.
Typically, there is a separate device for the scalpel, Smith said. But this is an all-in-one device, with the prime market being medical field kits in war zones and the secondary market first-response paramedics and emergency medical technicians. It is portable, easy to use and doesn't take up much space in the kit, he said.
Medics now have more options and can perform techniques more efficiently, quicker and with greater safety, said R. Alan Hester, research and development director at Tactical Medical.
This is our first foray into developing a product for the military, Smith said. We think we can extend the concept into other in-field surgical devices. It is a cost-efficient product to make because instead of making two components, you are making one, using multishot and insert-molding techniques.
Plas-Tech produces the hook using insert molding. The blade component is made in a separate process by ultrasonically welding the blade to the PC handle.
Plas-Tech also is developing plastic pre-filled syringes for drug delivery, building on its success in the past year with plastic pre-filled syringes for cosmetics and aesthetics markets. The syringes provide an alternative to glass syringes, which dominate the market.
We have been selling these syringes commercially for about a year into the aesthetics market and are in development right now on a number of pre-filled syringes for the drug-delivery market, Smith said.
The syringe is made from the cyclic olefin copolymer from Topas Advanced Polymers, a joint venture in Frankfurt, Germany, of Daicel Chemicals Ltd. and Polyplastics Co. Ltd. The U.S. subsidiary of Topas is based in Florence, Ky. Plas-Tech and Topas collaborated on the development of the syringe and the resin over the past six years.
We made the investments in process development, tools, people and R&D, said Smith. Mr. Hirschmann felt it was important to develop a material that could set us apart as a medical molder.
The opportunities to develop syringes made from the Topas 6013 COC resin are infinite, Smith said, as 2.5 billion pre-filled syringes are made annually 97 percent of them from glass.
We have replaced a three-piece assembly with a single-piece item, he said. Glass syringes have a glass barrel, a separate tip that is glued to the glass and a separate part that snaps onto the back for a backstop and a finger hole.
We have taken out assembly parts and have taken out parts, he added.
The plastic syringes offer high transparency and shatter resistance, and a total lower cost when costs for assembly and for breakage during filling, shipping and point-of-care are taken into consideration, said Smith. He also contends that the moisture-barrier properties can help companies extend the shelf life of pharmaceutical applications in less-demanding applications where PC and polypropylene are used.
The opportunity for specialty resins designed to compete in the pre-filled-syringe market is tremendous, Smith said. And that is an equally as large opportunity to develop COC plastic cartridges and vials, he said. It is a component that sets us apart and keeps us out of the commodity market where the competition is offshore molders. It is what you have to do to grow in this market.
Smith said the toolroom, scheduled to start up in December, will include a milling center, a bandsaw, an electrical-discharge-machine system and a lathe.
This will allow us to turn around small tools internally, he said. That will help reduce lead time and cycle costs, and reduce costs because we won't have to outsource those tasks. It will also help us develop some intellectual property in-house.
It also will be an aid in testing new molds and doing R&D work, he said.
Plas-Tech makes syringe-body components, including plungers, rods and tips, cartridges, intravenous components and medical components for surgical and monitoring devices and for diagnostic use.
We are a profitable company and doing well. All the pieces are place to serve the medical industry, Smith said.
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