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GW Plastics looks beyond molding to complete assembly

NEW YORK---Already known as an injection molding and contract manufacturing leader, Vermont-based GW Plastics Inc. is expanding its reach in the medical market with two facility expansions focused on contract device assembly and beyond.

A new, 125,000-square-foot facility is nearing completion in Dongguan, China, more than doubling the GW presence in southern China, said GW President and CEO Brenan Riehl at the at the June MD&M East trade show in New York.

"The building is up and we are now fitting it out and we hope to be occupying it in the fourth quarter of this year,"Riehl said. "The new building really allows us to have a much more efficient manufacturing flow, and more importantly it allows us to encompass another of our processes under one roof, from precision tooling to precision molding to contract assembly."

The new facility, Bethel, Vt.-based GW's sixth such shop around the world, also will include a product development center to help customers design and develop medical devices for manufacturability, Riehl said. In conjunction with in-house tooling, a core competency of GW, the development center will be able to see customers'molds through the entire design, build, development and validation process, he said.

The luxury of a lot of space is key for GW to take advantage of the increasing outsourcing trend in medical devices, especially in the growing Asia-for-Asia market, GW executives said, where the company's goal since opening a facility there in 2006 has been to be a trusted local supplier and not an export shop.

"Especially in the medical device space where we have three-quarters of our business, we want to make sure we have the scalability in order to accept and accommodate ongoing growth," Riehl said. "This facility really allows us to do that and allows us to set up flexible manufacturing solutions for our customers. We have enough space where we can set up customized work cells, integrated molding and assembly opportunities and again integrate all the capabilities under one roof, so having that product development capability, that tooling capability, the molding capability and then the assembly capability and then sufficient warehouse capability."

As OEMs increasingly look for one-stop shops they can trust, GW has been investing heavily in expanding from precision molding to operations up- and down-stream in the manufacturing process. The company's Tucson, Ariz., facility "has transformed itself over the last two years, said Anthony Fleszar, GW's North America sales manager.

"The scalability of product development, taking parts from early stages of program development through high-volume commercialization provides an opportunity to our customers right through finished devices. And now even on into packaging and distribution," Fleszar said.

The recently completed a 30,000-square-foot Tucson expansion, which includes clean room molding, contract assembly, warehousing and regulatory office space. Finished packaging capabilities there include pouching, tray-lidding, rigid and flexible form-fill-seal, final and contract sterilization.

"Our contract manufacturing business is really growing and we're supporting that growth [with] new capabilities and new facilities," Riehl said. "Having all that capability which is not only precision molding but manual assembly, automated assembly-- we don't want to just assemble for assembly's sake, we want to assemble where we can integrate the molding and the assembly, so it's really a plastic-centric solution with an eye toward lean manufacturing. If you can mold and assemble in the same work cell and do it on a highly automated basis, it drives excellent economics but also strong quality metrics as well."

Building out the business beyond molding has meant an investment "in excess of $5 million" in equipment and facilities between the Arizona and China locations, according to Riehl. 

"We've put our money where our mouth is," Riehl said. "The real cool value proposition here is that we have the ability to commercialize a project here in the United States, or if our customer wants a local or a low-cost manufacturing option in Asia, we can do it in China as well. We have that continuity of capability, a real global capability that not many companies can do. And then that filter gets even a little smaller when you think about our ability to not only do the molding but the tooling and the contract assembly under one roof."


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