Employment Growing At The Tech Group

March 28, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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Employment is up at The Tech Group Grand Rapids, one of West Michigan's burgeoning medical device manufacturers.

"Being in the health care business, we don’t really see any short-term effect of the economy at all," said Tech Group plant manager Mark Palmer. Activity within the medical industry just does not "swing up or down too much," he added.

"As a matter of fact, we are continuing to add to the staff. That's one thing we can leverage off the economy," said Palmer, adding that the talent pool "is very good for us right now. We've been able to hire a lot of good people."

The Tech Group's primary products are disposable filters used with intravenous drips used in hospitals and clinics. The Walker plant produces "about 98 percent" of the IV filters used in Japan, and "about 30 percent" of those used in Europe, according to Palmer. Yet, Palmer estimates that about 60 percent of the company’s business is with customers in the United States.

The company, located in a completely renovated plant formerly occupied by MetoKote Corp. in the North Wilson Commerce Park, now has almost 230 employees, up from about 190 early last fall. It started production there in March 2007.

A few of the additional employees moved from a Tech Group facility on Grandville Avenue that had previously been a Medtronic plant. Tech Group, which has corporate offices in Arizona, bought the Medtronic production facility about six years ago.

The Grandville Avenue plant was finally phased out and closed in October.

Tech Group is owned by West Pharmaceutical Services Inc. of Lionville, Pa., which for 2007, reported revenues surpassing $1 billion for the first time. Founded in 1923, West Pharmaceutical Services bought both The Tech Group and Monarch Analytical Laboratories Inc. in 2005. Tech Group has plants in Arizona, plus others in two other states and in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Ireland.

Some plant consolidation recently in Arizona has increased the work load at the Walker plant, said Palmer. At the same time, he said, "We've had some very positive new business coming in," although he was not at liberty to elaborate on that.

The 111,000-square-foot Walker plant, a $17.3 million investment, was renovated to contain two large, air-tight Class 100,000 "clean rooms," plus a smaller clean room where the air is cleaner yet: It is rated Class 10,000. The air is monitored at all times to ensure that it contains no more than 10,000 suspended particles per cubic foot, the particles equal to or larger than 0.5 microns. A human hair is about 100 microns thick.

The IV filters are assembled in the clean rooms and immediately packed for shipment in sealed, ultra-sanitary packaging for immediate use when opened. The large clean rooms are where most of the production, testing and packaging takes place. The plant is highly automated, with robotic machinery doing much of the work.

The Walker plant is one of The Tech Group's highest volume facilities, ultimately planned to have 15 assembly lines producing about 75 different types of medical solution filters. But it has much more potential.

"We're still nowhere near the capacity of this building, by any stretch of the imagination. We've got a lot of room for growth," said Palmer.

The plant has 40 injection molding machines producing components for use in medical devices made by Medtronics and other companies. The injection mold presses are rated from 35 to 400 tons.

The air inside the Tech Group assembly areas, along with all the interior surfaces from the floor on up, are kept as clean as any major hospital. The sterile environment is a far cry from the grimy and noisy industrial operations with which many Michigan workers are familiar.

"Most of (the employees) really like it," said Palmer. "They don't realize when they come in looking for a factory job that it's going to be that nice of an environment." HQX

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