DELANO, Minn.—There's a fallacy going around that anyone involved in the medical business has it made.
But that's not really the case, according to Kevin Carver, CEO of Delano-based Sil-Pro. Rubber component suppliers to the sector are facing more competition, increased requirements and a customer base looking to trim its vendor rolls.
“A lot of people have this false impression that if you're in medical that you don't have anything to worry about,” Carver said. “That's not really true. First off everybody wants to be in the medical business right now. ... From a manufacturing standpoint, it's very competitive because there are so many people wanting to do it. That doesn't really make it any easier for us. We're having to compete just like any other business for a certain amount of work that's out there.”
Things have changed in the medical landscape over the past seven years, he said. The validation protocol and quality requirements are much higher and continue to escalate, and much of that work is done upfront.
“It is a challenge but also is a nice safeguard in the long run because if a customer is going to take the time to do all of that with you, you probably stand a fair shot of keeping that product under your roof in the future,” Carver said.
And there is an ongoing stream of new competitors looking to get into the medical arena because it's seen as “recession-proof.” Sil-Pro tries to combat that by continuously improving its processes.
“We're big in lean manufacturing and reducing cost,” the company CEO said. “We continue to do so and win awards from some of our major customers. We do our best not to give them a reason to look anywhere else.”
Sil-Pro works hard to ensure its core competencies cover vertical integration from the start to finish of a product's lifespan. That ranges from design to prototype work, onto the tool making, manufacturing and molding processes. And then the medical goods supplier performs value-added services such as assemblies, sub-assemblies and packaging, Carver said.
“A lot of times, some companies might specialize in one side or the other, and end up losing some growth opportunities on either side of that,” he said.
Quality requirements continue to be more extensive, and now cover not only manufacturing the product but having the systems in place for validation protocols.
“Keeping up with the quality system and paperwork associated with that is a whole other escalating situation that you have to be on top of,” he said. “It's difficult for companies that aren't familiar with it.”
Sil-Pro specializes in long-term implantable components and devices, so that's less likely to see overseas competition than high-volume disposable medical goods. “We're able to stay competitive through automating our processes and lean manufacturing continuous improvement activities,” Carver said.
““We track the cost of everything we make here on every job, and share that with our employees, so they know how important it is for us to continuously get better at chipping away at costs and waste in the value stream so that we're able to compete against the world,”
Carver believes Sil-Pro will benefit from the customers' trend toward streamlining the supplier base.
“If you do a good job, you're in a good position to maintain and grow because they are looking to downsize their current vendor lists to the companies they think are most able to minimize the risk for the products.
“At the end of the day, our manufacturing is a mirror image of what our customers need to have on their end. They want to partner up with vendors that meet or exceed their own internal standards.”
The company is in the midst of a 6,000-sq.-ft. clean room expansion, and it employs a total of 185, up in recent years.
“I think there are a lot of opportunities for companies that are aligned properly to the medical device companies,” he said.
“I feel we are positioned to be one of those companies. We've experienced a lot of business opportunities from our customers moving things from competitors over to us because we're doing a good job.”