Firm Provides The Show For Implant Manufacturers

June 17, 2002
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ZEELAND — When an orthopedic surgeon starts telling parents she’s concerned that the growth plate may be jeopardized by the fracture of junior’s ulna, the parents’ eyes tend to glaze over.

But nowadays, the doc often reaches into a nearby box, pulls out a model ulna and shows the parents exactly the site of the concern.

The model may have come to the surgeon via a major prosthetics manufacturer, who in turn likely ordered it — and 500 copies — from Chuck Clevenger’s shop, Medical Accessories & Research Corp., located in Zeeland.

MARC, as the firm is known for short, also probably manufactured the case and the foam rubber insets in which the bone replica is nestled.

Clevenger, a Hoosier who had been around manufacturing, marketing and the medical industry for some years, established MARC in 1989.

The company has a payroll, he says, of slightly more than 20 “of the most talented workers you can imagine.”

What gave rise to it all, he said, was learning that several of the major manufacturers of the high alloy replacements which surgeons implant to replace bad hips and knees, had a problem.

Their marketing types, whose job is to show the latest developments in prosthesis joints to orthopedic surgeons, were having to wheel 160-pound cases into clinics and the doctors’ back offices.

If nothing else, the size of such cases virtually eliminated women marketing specialists whose verbal skills and high-speed repartee often are particularly effective in dealing with surgeons.

Clevenger designed a way in which one of the firm’s latest products — say, a knee implant — could be socketed into the ends of a transparent plastic femur and tibia. He then packaged the assembly in a light briefcase-size box.

Thus, the salesperson could breeze in and breeze out after quickly showing the doc exactly how the prosthesis would fit and function for the patient.

“They [the prosthesis manufacturer] had me make up two or three of them,” Clevenger said, “and I didn’t hear anything for quite a time.

“But then one day they called with an order for 500. Turned out they had been trying to do it themselves and couldn’t come close.”

What MARC does today is supply all the cases for a range of products that the implant manufacturers use for presentations at orthopedists’ conventions.

Those same conventions also entail training bones and implant models (far cheaper and lighter to carry around than the high alloy implants themselves) for the annual continuous education requirements all physicians — including specialists — must complete.

Depending upon their purposes, bones can be either clear acrylic or other plastics that have the heft and look of actual bone.

For people who market to spinal surgeons, MARC has a case and a beautiful clear acrylic replica of a human spine to fit it.

Occasionally the firm also is requested to provide a model of an entire leg: femur, muscle, veins and arteries, and nerves.

“We do have some talented people here,” Clevenger added. “They can do about anything in making molds.”

Aside from the technical processes in his Zeeland plant, Clevenger said the business is fascinating because it shows MARC’s staff how far some types of surgery have come in the past few years.

“It’s amazing to see what they do with lumbar vertebrae and replacing disks now,” he said, “as opposed to even five years ago.

The rapid evolution of implants, he explained, also puts a special burden on MARC.

“When a new development is coming from one of the manufacturers,” he told the Business Journal, “we generally are in on it six months before they release the information to the public and the doctors.”

But he’s not going to talk about it because otherwise he’d have to kill the listener.

A few years back, he explained, some industrial espionage occurred in the orthopedic implants industry when someone attempted to establish a new firm by selling what it knew to an implant manufacturer’s competitor.

“Let’s just say that the FBI got into it,” Clevenger said.

Accordingly MARC and its few competitors jealously guard new all new orthopedic implant designs. At MARC, Clevenger said, it takes two workers to check out a component or implant which has yet to be announced to the public.

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