As president of medical device injection molder Seisa Group in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Julio Chiu believes there's a lot of potential for manufacturing health care products in the border regions of Mexico and the United States.
Medical is not a big part of manufacturing in the maquiladora factories along the Mexican side of the border now.
But Chiu hopes that a medical device manufacturing group which formed last year, the Paso del Norte Biomedical Cluster, can tap that potential by building links between manufacturers, hospitals and universities in the region around Juarez, El Paso, Texas and southern New Mexico.
Chiu is chairman of the new group, which has about 10 members and hopes to grow to 20 by the end of the year.
The industrial cluster has support from local economic development agencies on both sides of the border, including in El Paso, Texas, and Las Cruces, New Mexico. It's modeled on similar efforts in Tijuana, Salt Lake City, San Diego and other places, Chiu said.
The goal, he said, is help local companies innovate and build on the strengths of the more than 5,000 jobs in medical manufacturing in Juarez.
That's a small fraction of the more than 300,000 people employed in the maquiladora factories in Juarez.
But Chiu said the cluster wants to tap the manufacturing expertise that's developed over decades in Juarez, manufacturing electronics, appliances and other consumer goods, and build a medical manufacturing base.
“What we hope to accomplish [in the cluster] is what they've done elsewhere,” he said, in an interview with Plastics News. “It's intended to share growth and opportunities. Competition is not something that is bad for anybody.
“We have to create our own opportunities by sharing our expertise and knowhow and through innovation and common efforts.”
Chiu said Mexico is too often seen as just a low-cost labor destination, but he contends companies like Seisa, with its own local product development capabilities, are proving otherwise.
Seisa formed in 1983. Today the company has more than 40 injection molding machines ranging from 25 to 850 tons clamping force in factories in Juarez, where it also has clean room manufacturing and research and development focusing on minimally-invasive medical devices.
The company has a small manufacturing plant in the Slovak Republic, which it set up in 2006, along with offices and support services in El Paso and Hong Kong.
It plans to add five add injection molding machines to the factory in Slovakia by year end, its first plastics operations there, he said.
Chiu said local product development like Seisa has can also play a role in helping the medical device industry tailor products for emerging markets like Mexico.
Per capita spending on health care in Latin America is only about $700, compared with $8,900 in the United States. But the medical device industry in Latin America grew 14 percent a year between 2004 and 2012, creating opportunities if they can develop devices to meet needs in those markets, he said.