MRPC prepares for 2013 medical expansion

MRPC, fresh off its acquisition of ETI Inc., is preparing for a general expansion of its Butler, WI manufacturing campus early next year that will continue its growing focus on the medical device market.

“We expect add a cleanroom and a few injection molding machines as part of the expansion,” President Greg Riemer told PlasticsToday in an interview. MRPC already operates five cleanrooms in Butler, and also expects over time to add cleanroom molding to its newly acquired ETI unit in Largo, Florida. The initial focus in Butler will be adding thermoplastic injection molding machines up to 250 tons in size.

MRPC is a 91-year-old family-owned company with roots in rubber and thermoplastic molding for industrial markets that shifted to a focus on medical in the 1980s when customers began shifting to lower wage processors, first in the southern United States and Mexico and then in Asia.

“We felt that if we wanted to grow the business we needed to move away from those customers that didn’t value the products, quality, and services that we brought to the table,” said Riemer. “And we weren’t large enough of a company to globetrot with our larger customers, so the management of the company at that time moved aggressively into medical.”

MRPC maintained relationships with important industrial customers as it moved toward medical, which now represents about 70% of its revenues.

The company has more than 115 employees in Wisconsin and 25 in Florida. With the addition of the ETI, MRPC added 50 employees, primarily in engineering and manufacturing. MRPC anticipates adding an additional 10-20 positions in the next two years.

MRPC’s five cleanrooms in Wisconsin range from Class 10,000 to 100,000, including a class 100,000 cleanroom that opened earlier this year.

Components for surgical instrument are a primary focus. “One of the areas we’re pursuing is the implantable PEEK marketplace,” said Riemer. An example would be a micro molded PEEK part overmolded with liquid silicone rubber that provides a seal. Those types of parts are used in defibrillators and pacemakers to replace more expensive metal components.

MRPC’s core competence is two-shot molding with thermoplastic, silicone and rubber components.

“We do a lot of overmolding of the rubber or silicone materials on to thermoplastic parts or other substrate materials that we purchase. We will also even do silicone extrusion to produce a complex subassembly for our customers,” says Riemer. “What makes us a little bit unique is that we started with the silicone rubbers. A lot of thermoplastic molders are now starting to overmold with silicone rubbers, but there is a very big learning curve involved, particularly in the tooling and bonding agents.” Familiarity with how the materials react with each other is also an important area of expertise.

The acquisition of ETI this year gives MRPC a bigger presence in the southeastern and eastern U.S. and additional capacity. About half of ETI’s business is medical. Investments in quality systems and cleanroom manufacturing are on tap to allow deeper penetration into medical markets at the ETI division.

“It’s our intention to continue pursuing our acquisition strategy,” said Riemer. “Our plan right now is to digest and integrate ETI over the next couple of years both financially and culturally. Once that it completed we’re looking to purchase another company either in another attractive geographic area in the U.S., or even somewhere offshore.”

Growth is being financed primarily through working capital and local banks.

MRPC is somewhat of an anomaly in American medical molding today for a few reasons. There has been a trend toward consolidation of medical molders into large companies, often global, that are funded by venture capital funds. MRPC is a company that is still family owned and locally funded-and growing rapidly with a focus on two-shot molding of thermoset rubbers and thermoplastics with the ability to create complex assemblies. Sometimes those assemblies are made with its own silicone extrusions, usually tubing.

Its big medical customers appreciate its relative smallness and closely held ownership.

“Our customers really value their intellectual property,” said Riemer. “They like the fact that we are privately owned and have no intentions of selling out to a larger organization. They know that their IP will reside here as opposed to an unknown situation.”

The venture capitalists do come knocking on Riemer’s door on occasion, but MRPC likes where it stands now.

“Not so long ago, we were a company with a lot of competition that could do similar things,” said Riemer. “Now we are one of a few.”

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