At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical suppliers saw massive demand increases for their products, prompting quick ramp-ups across the industry.
A little more than a year later, demand for components for items like respirators are leveling out, while components for testing and drug and vaccine development continue to grow.
Erie, Pa.-based Plastikos Inc. accelerated plans to expand its medical facilities, including more than doubling the size of its current 12,000-square-foot, ISO 7 clean room, to meet increased demand for components for drug development, medication delivery and other medical products.
The injection molder has seen a steady increase of its medical production from 35 percent of its business in 2018 to an expected "solid 60 percent" by the end of 2021, Philip Katen, president and general manager of Plastikos, told Plastics News.
That shift to medical is expected to continue to about 75 percent of production over the next few years, he said, and it is what prompted Plastikos Medical, which opened in 2019 and focuses on manufacturing precision-molded products for Class II and Class III medical devices, to fast-track its original five-year expansion plan.
The company diversified its medical production over the last year, with both new customers and increased business from existing customers, Katen said, specifically for its clean room production and engineering and technical capabilities.
Some of its new medical OEM customers were directly involved in Operation Warp Speed, he said, supplying vaccine manufacturers with products for the development and testing of the COVID-19 vaccine, globally.
Plastikos manufactures connection points for feeding tubes, medication delivery and development that "need to form a perfect seal and can't have any impurities," Katen said. "Materials used for components for drug development needs to be a high-temperature, highly engineered material that doesn't react to the chemicals flowing through them."
Components for electronics, like durable patient monitoring systems, ICU beds, testing equipment and incubators, saw increased demand last year and have remained high in 2021, he said.
Disposable medical devices, which were seeing market growth before the pandemic, also saw stable growth this year, Katen said.
"[The pandemic] really exposed how thin the supply chains and inventory levels were," he said. Hospital systems not only had immediate need for products, but also built up "safety stocks" in response.
Products that saw a "flip-a-switch drop in demand" last year, Katen said, were any components that went into elective procedures and eye surgery components. That demand didn't pick back up until late fall or winter, he added.
When production of parts for respirators rose to "unprecedented levels" last year, Plastikos "couldn't produce enough, couldn't run fast enough or ship fast enough," he said. "At this point, we're not running those parts hardly, if at all."
Plastikos Medical began construction of Phase II of its expansion in March 2021. It is expected to be operational by the end of February 2022.
The added clean room space will be used for 15 new medical injection molding machines. Once completed, the Plastikos Medical facility will include 25 ISO 7 clean room presses.
Plastikos' headquarters currently operates 10 ISO 7 clean room presses and 27 white room presses. When its internal ISO 8 conversion project is completed in June 2021, the headquarters will have 10 ISO 7 clean room presses, eight ISO 8 clean room presses and 19 white room presses.