Erie, Pa.-based Plastikos Inc. is building a 33,000-square-foot medical molding facility near its headquarters that will house 10- and eventually up to 20-new injection molding machines to meet demand from customers with projects needing clean rooms.
The new site, Plastikos Medical, will support molding growth of more than 100 percent since 2014, according to the company, which produces small, tight-tolerance parts, such as components for drug-delivery pumps, surgical eye care and blood filtration.
Growth is expected to accelerate through the 2018 fiscal year, Plastikos President and General Manager Philip Katen said in a phone interview. The company has added come positions and began 24/7 production in June.
"Multiple subsectors on the medical side of the business are doing well. We've seen excellent growth in diabetes care and pain management systems," Katen said. "And wearables open a new chapter in terms of quality of life for patients and living active lifestyles. It's pretty cool what OEMs are able to bring to market."
For example, Plastikos commercialized disposable cartridge components for wearable drug delivery devices with several parts molded from cyclic olefin copolymer (COC) by Topas Advanced Polymers. The company worked with the COC producer on the complex geometries of the glass-clear material, which offers purity, drug compatibility, biocompatibility and dimensional stability that allows for the miniaturization of drug delivery systems.
"It's remarkable what OEMs, doctors and health care can bring to quality of life and society. It's great to play a small role in driving innovation and delivering that life-saving care," Katen said.
Founded in 1978, Plastikos started out molding electrical connectors from liquid crystal polymers for the electronics market. The company added injection molding capabilities in 1989, but the medical market was a only small part of the business until about nine years ago. The medical focus followed a long period of strategic planning.
"The journey to break into clean room medical is a long one and grueling in some respects," Katen said. "In the last three-to-five years, after the Great Recession started to subside, that part of the business continued to grow and that has driven the big clean room expansion we undertook in 2014, and now here three short years later, we're ready to embark on a much bigger expansion."
Medical is gaining as a percent of total business, Katen said.
"On the electronics side, our largest long-term customer continues to do great. But with the number of new and additional accounts rapidly growing on the medical side, the needle is moving in that direction," he added.
A few years ago, Plastikos purchased nearby land with another expansion in mind. The business and its sister company, Micro Mold Inc., took on their first major expansion for the medical market with a 17,000-square-foot addition onto Plastikos' 45,000-square-foot headquarters in 2014. That expansion was projected to increase production capacity by more than 30 percent for new medical business gained by Plastikos and Micro Mold.
Construction of the new stand-alone facility, which will also have offices, mold storage, and a metrology lab and tool maintenance room, is expected to begin in July and end in summer 2019. The ISO 7 (class 10,000) clean room operations will ramp up in two phases, starting with the installation of 10 injection molding machines equipped with 3-axis robots for pick-and-place work as well as a cavity pressure monitoring system.
Most of the machines will arrive as construction wraps up. The other presses will be installed in the following months.
"We'll strategically time those deliveries in conjunction with supporting our customers," Katen said.
The privately held company is not disclosing the exact cost of this multimillion-dollar investment. Plastikos will have a production fleet of 45 injection molding machines at the end of the first phase.
The second phase of the plan calls for the addition of 10 more presses as they are needed by customers for a total of 55 molding machines. At this point, press tonnages will continue to range from 88-220 tons, but that's subject to change based on customer needs and plans, Katen said.
Plastikos was running production six days a week with partial weekend operations on some Saturdays and Sundays for about one and a half years before going to an around-the-clock schedule in June. The company has about 150 employees, while Micro Mold has about 20. The businesses will have about 200 employees combined after the expansion. Recruiting efforts are underway for the medical and electronic divisions.
Katen has been in his role about 11½ years and has seen the medical side of the business take off.
"It's gone very well, arguably exceeding expectations through a lot of hard work, effort and strategic planning," he said. "During the Great Recession, everyone had circled the wagons to survive and focus on internal organizations. It was tough for the entire economy, but we emerged stronger than ever. We doubled down on investments, improvements, technology, new presses, automation and the like.
"We came out of recession positioned and poised for growth, strategically targeting the medical industry and thus far it has worked out well. I'm optimistic for what the future holds and this new chapter," Katen said.