Contract manufacturer and injection molder Phillips-Medisize Corp. has Asia circled as its next expansion/acquisition target.
“We see substantial opportunities to grow in Asia. We are looking for locations for manufacturing and for design and development there,” possibly in China, said Matt Jennings, president and CEO of the $500 million company, in an interview at the Medical Design & Manufacturing West show.
“Our interest in being there is to stay close to our customers, and they have a desire to be there,” said Jennings, who has been president and CEO since last April. The privately held company in Hudson, Wis., gets 75 percent of its revenue from medical markets.
He also said the company — which changed its name from Phillips Plastics Corp. in early February — “wants to really concentrate” on diagnostic and single-use medical devices, and drug-delivery devices, which together account for 80 percent of the company's medical sales.
“In the last year, we have invested in the expansion of our capacity in both the U.S. and in Europe, both in space and capabilities, and in molding capacity, and we expect to continue to do that as we go forward” said Jennings.
He said officials of private equity firm Kohlberg & Co. LLC, which bought the company in December 2010, have been “great supporters of what we do.”
“They want us to do more of the same,” he said. “Their ownership allows us to [invest] in broader geographies.”
The MD&M West show, held Feb. 14-16 in Anaheim, also represented a shift in approach for the company, which previously guarded information about its business and rarely talked about what it was doing. Jennings himself underscored that shift with a news conference, saying it was “the company's first press conference since ... maybe ever.”
Jennings also made it clear that the company isn't going to stand idle while it digests its $143 million acquisition in July of Vantaa, Finland-based Medisize Corp.
“We want to establish new partnerships built on innovation and do new things based on new technology,” said Jennings in an interview at the company's booth after the news conference.
“Both companies have legacies of helping OEM customers turn devices into manufacturable products,” he said. The combined companies will benefit from the strengths they brought to the merger, he added.
“Medisize has high-volume and automated-assembly manufacturing strength, and a really good understanding of midvolume automated assembly,” said Jennings. “Phillips brought to the merger design and development capabilities. We have 250 engineers involved in design and development. [Medisize] didn't have those capabilities.”
That is especially critical, he said, because 90 percent of the production work done by Phillips before the merger initially came through the company's design and development center in Hudson. It is also why the merged company quickly added a similar facility — albeit on a much smaller scale — in the Netherlands after the merger. “You have to be able to design into the product the ability to manufacture it in a highly automated setting.”
The acquisition created a company with 19 plants, Jennings said. “Before that, neither company had looked beyond their borders” of the U.S. and Europe.
Jennings is most excited about opportunities for growth in the market for drug-delivery devices through products such as insulin pens or personalized devices.
“That is a very exciting area for us and the industry,” said Jennings. “The number of … devices that can deliver drugs through an alternative delivery mechanism is enormous. There are a lot more drugs being put into new delivery devices, so there are great opportunities.”
In addition, a lot of pharmaceutical companies are “looking for ways to differentiate drugs that are going to become generic as their patents expire,” and they are doing it through drug-delivery devices, he said.
Developing those delivery products requires skills not everyone has.
“Human-factor engineering is becoming a bigger part of the piece that medical people need,” Jennings said, adding that the way a device interacts with people is becoming more critical.
“You are interfacing a liquid drug with a mechanical device, so you have to have an understanding of how to make small, smart devices that can handle fluids,” said Jennings. “You have to have quality systems in place, engineers to design its manufacturing and the needed automation, and you have to be able to make it and scale it.”
Those same engineering skills are similar to what's needed to grow the other large portion of its medical business — diagnostics and single-use medical devices, he said.
“The engineering has to be very precise on the complicated single-use devices we make” such as endoscopic surgical instruments and devices used to put stents into place. “They have to be designed so the surgeon has the right feel,” he said.
“We can integrate advanced molding, automated assembly and quality-control systems,” said Jennings. “We want to get into a lot more automated assembly of finished devices. That is the big challenge for us. We want to do more finished devices and high-level subassemblies.”
He believes Phillips-Medisize can grow the same way it historically has — by helping customers design their products and by staying close to its customers.
“We understand the pain points for our customers,” said Jennings. “They have a need for top-line growth, they need to reduce costs and it is becoming difficult for them to innovate” entirely on their own. “They are looking for engineering and design and development support. Our role is to develop our customers' products.”
Jennings said he has no doubts the companies will grow at even a faster clip because of the greater resources of the merged firms.
“Even in the downturn, we had good, solid growth in the mid-to-high single digits, and had growth on the medical side in the double-digits,” he said. “We expect our growth rate to increase.”
The integration of the two companies has been smooth, he said.
“We had similar, innovation-oriented cultures, our technology platforms are very similar and [we] did many things the same way,” Jennings said. “The biggest challenge has been to coordinate the global account structure. That has been an adjustment.”
Phillips-Medisize employs more than 2,100 people worldwide. Prior to its acquisition of Medisize, all of Phillips Plastics Corp.'s plants were in its home state of Wisconsin. The company also has a tooling and molding joint venture in China.
‘We now have finished-device manufacturing in Finland and low-cost capacity for that same type of manufacturing in the Czech Republic,” Jennings said. “And with our factory in Ireland, we are finding good interest from North American partners who are interested in selling into Europe.”
In addition to drug-delivery devices such as syringes and injector pens for insulin, the company makes bottles and application bags for pharmaceutical packaging; medical and diagnostic devices such as pumps, tube sets and catheters; and airway-management products such as filtration devices and breathing circuits.
Jennings said the company intends to remain in its consumer, defense and automotive markets, which total 25 percent of the company's revenues.
“Our presence in those markets keeps us at the cutting edge of technology and plays an important role for our medical business, because historically, medical has been slow to adopt technology,” he said. “We can transfer the technologies in those markets to medical.”