Taking aim at wound-care and medical garment applications with more-demanding color requirements, Foster Corp. has invested close to $1 million to add a compounding line for custom pre-colored polymers.
“It is designed to serve high-volume [Class 1] medical applications such as bandage or packaging film where color is critical and cost is important,” said former company executive Dan Lazas, who still provides marketing direction for Foster through his Lazas Marketing Group.
Foster, headquartered in Putnam, Conn., already supplies compounds for minimally invasive devices such as tubing and catheters, said manufacturing director Christine Howe.
“Wound care is the big market, but also hospital gowns or any kind of fabric used in the hospital,” Lazas said at the Medical Design & Manufacturing East show, held May 22-24 in Philadelphia. “This is not for devices that go into the body. This is for things outside the body — Class 1 devices that have to be done right and look good,” he said.
“We are getting interest from companies that make Class 1 devices who were looking for the kind of expertise we offer — but who wanted things in high volumes,” Lazas said. “This allows us to serve them better with faster and better equipment.”
The new twin-screw compounding line, which began operating earlier this year, can do traditional strand cutting as well as underwater pelletizing and has a capacity in excess of 1,000 pounds per hour.
The underwater pelletizing is designed specifically for low-durometer materials such as urethanes and thermoplastic elastomers.
“This allows us to better supply injection molders that are making fittings, tubing and piping. It expands our range of customers in the injection molding community,” said Foster CEO Larry Acquarulo.
Because of the new twin-screwline, the company also is able to provide its customers with products beyond radiopaque and transparent tubing and catheteters, Lazas noted.
“It is designed for colored film, colored tubing and colored fibers where getting the color right is critical. The medical-device market is becoming much, more competitive,” he said.
“Our customers want a better, simple method and something to keep their costs down as a device company. They don't want yield losses,” Lazas said.
Multiple opportunities are arising from Class 1 color applications, he said.
“Color is becoming part of the differentiation for companies. People have had a historical mindset to use masterbatches, but they are beginning to realize that they can save money by switching over” to pre-colored polymers, even though they are more expensive, per se, he said.
“The better yields, the consistency of the [pre-colored] polymers and the manufacturing efficiencies add up to a total cost savings,” Lazas said. “The high-end thermoplastic elastomers and types of materials we process are more expensive, but they are still pretty reasonable and we can provide a total lower cost.”
Looking at other areas of the business, Lazas said Foster sees “growth opportunities in implantables and its delivery science segments.”
“There is a lot of blending of bone-growth additives into bioabsorbable materials,” he said —particularly the addition of radiopaque materials so implants can be seen on X-rays.