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Late last year, Ray Products, Inc., conducted a second annual thermoforming industry survey. More than half of the survey respondents represented medical device manufacturers. Their answers provide some helpful insight into industry trends.

Most Medical Device Plastics Manufacturing Happens Domestically

Fig. 1 – Respondents were asked what percentage of their current plastics manufacturing operations happen in the US.
In past decades, offshoring manufacturing operations was a de facto cost savings measure for companies based in the United States. However, today that trend seems to have been reversed. Medical device manufacturers taking the survey indicated that 75 percent of their plastics manufacturing already happens in the US. (See Figure 1)

When asked about the potential for reshoring, 30 percent of medical device manufacturers replied that they have already reshored some or all of their plastics manufacturing operations. Another 16 percent are considering it for the future, and 38 percent have always used domestic plastics manufacturing.

That leaves just 7 percent of medical device manufacturers who said that they’re happy with their current offshore plastics manufacturing and have no plans to reshore. (See Figure 2)

The Link Between Domestic Manufacturing and Quality

Fig. 2 – Respondents were asked if they have reshored any offshore plastics manufacturing in the past.
“Quality” was the top answer when the survey asked medical manufacturers to list the most important things they look for when choosing a plastics manufacturing vendor. When the survey asked for the key selling point of the products they make, the answer was again, “Quality.”

Domestic plastics manufacturing has long enjoyed a reputation for quality. This was illustrated earlier last year when automaker Aston Martin was forced to recall close to 18,000 vehicles because of the failure of a plastic part manufactured overseas. Shortly after the recall, the automaker announced plans to reshore its plastic manufacturing operations.

For both luxury cars and medical devices, buyers expect high quality machines that offer high levels of performance in demanding environments. It’s no surprise, then, that both industries are seeing a trend toward domestic plastics manufacturing. Many device makers have also learned that when you factor in shipping costs, communication barriers, and quality control issues, the promised cost savings of offshore plastics manufacturing simply aren’t there.

Thermoforming in Medical Device Manufacturing Expected to Grow

Fig. 3 – Respondents were asked what percentage of the plastics manufacturing projects they were involved with over the past 12 months used thermoforming.
Medical device manufacturers taking the survey indicated that thermoforming accounted for 28 percent of their overall plastics manufacturing in the past year, and they expect it to account for 30 percent over the coming year. (See Figure 3)

Every manufacturing process has unique advantages. Matching the needs of a project with the right process is a key part of any manufacturing process. When it comes to medical device manufacturing, pressure forming has several advantages that make it an appealing process.

When survey takers were asked to rank the most appealing aspects of thermoforming as a process, “Lower Tooling Costs” was the most popular answer, followed closely by “Cost at Lower Quantities.”

Pressure forming generally has a significant cost advantage over other plastics manufacturing processes at quantities of a few hundred, up to the midthousands. These quantities are fairly common in the medical device industry and, at large sizes, the savings can often be multiplied exponentially.

The process also offers a wide range of materials that can be appealing to medical device manufacturers, from custom colors and textures to advanced materials that offer built-in antimicrobial resistance.

As more medical device manufacturers become aware of the advantages that thermoforming has to offer, we expect that its popularity will continue to grow. For more complete survey results from a variety of industries, visit www.rayplastics.com/2014-thermoformingsurvey-results.

This article was written by Jason Middleton, VP of Sales & Development at Ray Products, Inc., Ontario, CA. For more information on Ray Products, Inc., visit http://info.hotims.com/55586-164.