Nelipak Corp. is expanding the capabilities at its thermoforming plant in Humacao, Puerto Rico, a coastal city considered ground zero for the landfall of Hurricane Maria in September 2017.
The Cranston, R.I.-based company added a control room and a Class 8 clean room to the facility, plus personnel and equipment from a rented plant about 10 miles away in Juncos, which was consolidated into the larger Humacao plant.
Nelipak bought the 67,250-square-foot Humacao site in April 2017 when it acquired Whitehall, Pa.-based medical thermoformer Computer Designs Inc. and its four locations. Five months later, the facility fared well when Hurricane Maria swept across the U.S. territory, Sean Egan, global marketing director, told Plastics News in an email.
"The site suffered minor damage during Maria," Egan said. "Local infrastructure was hard hit, but the site was up and running within a couple of days thanks to the efforts of the staff."
After the storm, Nelipak shifted attention to its plan to upgrade manufacturing operations in Humacao. In addition to being larger and company-owned, the facility has space to expand, which Egan said positions the business to grow with its customers and take on products transferred from other company sites.
Nelipak produces packaging that protects medical devices and pharmaceutical products, such as handling trays and blisters, and it offers custom-built sealing machines. The company has eight health care packaging facilities that employ about 750 in the United States, the Netherlands, Ireland and Costa Rica as well as the Puerto Rico site.
"Expansion is driven by customer growth in Puerto Rico across orthopedic and catheter product lines, in particular, as Nelipak continues to be the partner of choice among our strategic customers who look to work with global suppliers in the health care packaging sector," Egan said.
Nelipak's customers include Stryker, Boston Scientific, Medtronic, Nypro, Baxter, and Abbott, according to a 2017 trade show exhibition profile.
Company officials declined to put a dollar figure on improvements to the Humacao facility, but described them as significant in terms of maintaining a strong presence in the area to support customers.
"We are excited about the enhancements to our site in Humacao and continue to invest significantly in our operations in Puerto Rico because of the island's proximity to our customers and the quality of the local workforce," Nelipak CEO Mike Kelly said in a news release.
Kelly thanked the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. for support. The Juncos site had been rented from the government-owned corporation that promotes investment.
Manuel Laboy Rivera, the secretary of Commerce and Economic Development, said Nelipak's facility upgrade means a lot to the city and island.
"The generation of employment opportunities for our workforce represents new hope to continue our path to the economic development of Puerto Rico," Laboy Rivera said in the statement.
On Sept. 20, 2017, Humacao and its neighboring towns bore the brunt of the force of Hurricane Maria, which slammed into the city with winds of 155 mph. The strong winds and falling trees took down most of the power grid and left the system in need of a complete rebuild. Blue tarps still cover roofs of some storm-damaged homes. Some teachers and police officers fled the area and don't plan to return, hurting community services.
Still, Nelipak is sticking to its plan to grow in Humacao, which has long been a popular place to do business for the medical and pharmaceutical industry. However, a few post-hurricane modifications have been made.
"The site was scheduled to be upgraded before the storm to bring it in line with our manufacturing standards at other locations," Egan said. "Where necessary, the work has included improving the overall structure for future storm events."
Nelipak is owned by the private equity Mason Wells Buyout Fund III LP of Milwaukee. With $87 million in annual sales, Nelipak is the 25th largest thermoformer in North American, according to Plastics News' latest ranking.