Companies specializing in precision engineering and high-performance plastics may still be something of a rarity in commodity-oriented China.
But for Pittsfield, Mass.-based China Array Plastics LLC, it's a path the company has been walking for a decade now.
The U.S. company, with a small injection molding factory in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, recently disclosed details of a blood-testing device it manufactures there for Boston-based Jana Care.
The device slots into a smartphone to transmit data to a laboratory.
“We're kind of a boutique injection molder for the high-tech industries,” said China Array President Russ Johnson, in an interview.
“A lot of high-tech companies have a great idea that needs to be introduced to the real world,” he said. “We're very good at taking their concept, give them advice on material selection, manufacturability and how to tool it, then we build it for them.”
China Array, which makes and assembles Jana's Aina Mobile Blood Monitoring System for commercial distribution in Asia, is working on an upgrade that Jana hopes to bring to global markets.
In a joint news release from the two companies, Jana executives said the central China location helps lower production costs, a key for its global sales strategy.
“Wuhan... was a great option to keep the cost of the device affordable, which is key to our goal of maximizing usage in all geographies,” said Michal Depa, Jana Care's chief technology officer.
The bulk of China's plastics industry is concentrated within a short drive of Shanghai or the Pearl River Delta in southern China. But when Johnson was casting about for a place to set up his factory in 2006, he chose the inland industrial city of Wuhan, home to a sizable car manufacturing industry.
The explanation is simple -- Johnson, who has been doing business in China since 1980, had connections there.
He said the city of 10 million offers a skilled labor force, good engineering universities, and lower wages than other areas.
Its location, as capital city of central China's Hubei province, also offers recruiting advantages, Johnson said. Some of China Array's 40-plus workers came to Wuhan after laboring as migrant workers elsewhere in the country.
“Our core group of employees has all been with us for eight to 10 years,” he said. “That kind of loyalty is unusual for China.”
The 20,000-square-foot Wuhan plant runs six injection molding machines, including a recently acquired 25-ton Arburg vertical machine to handle insert molding. The company plans to add another Arburg vertical machine within the year.
The company's Pittsfield has three engineers plus two support staff.
In its work for Jana, China Array executives focused on production of small parts and assembly.
“There's a big push in medical to go to miniaturization,” he said.
Jana said it found China Array through mutual connections in the medical device industry in Massachusetts.
“Having taken the Aina concept as far as CAD and 3D printing could carry it, we needed to move on to injection molded prototypes followed by rapid, scalable manufacturing,” said Jana Care's Depa.