RAVENNA, Ohio—Parker Hannifin Corp. opened its Donald E. Washkewicz Polymer Innovation Center on Oct. 2, celebrating the 24,000-sq.-ft. addition to the Parflex Division's headquarters in Ravenna.
The center, named for Washkewicz—the division's first general manager and current chairman, CEO and president of Cleveland-based Parker Hannifin—represents a $15 million investment from Parker with $2.3 million coming from Ohio's Third Frontier Research and Development Center Program.
Parflex Division will utilize the Polymer Innovation Center to create, test and prove new materials, innovations and products for use across the various industries Parker serves. It will focus the division's research and development capabilities for all seven of its manufacturing facilities into one location.
Parker projects to create 34 high technology and engineering jobs through the center. The Parflex facility currently employs about 315.
“The polymer center is a multi-faceted facility that is chartered with developing new products, new materials and new processes,” said Bill Fisher, Parflex Division's product engineering manager. “It is functioning on our core products to enhance them, to make them relevant and to revitalize them. We run a myriad of polymers.”
The Parflex Division designs and manufacturers thermoplastic and fluoropolymer hose, tubing and accessories for application in the transportation, oil and gas, life science/medical, military, construction, and marine industries.
In addition to the Ravenna location, Parflex operates three manufacturing facilities in Texas—Fort Worth, Stafford and Freeport—as well as in Manitowoc, Wisc.; Randleman, N.C.; and Monterrey, Mexico.
The division's headquarters in Ravenna houses most of the staff and support functions for the group. Its manufacturing arm produces primarily high pressure hydraulic hose and tubing along with specialty products used in the chemical process industry, such as its multi-tube product line.
Parflex is part of Parker's Fluid Connectors Group, which consists of 14 divisions—six in North America—and 56 manufacturing facilities worldwide.
Parflex General Manager Mark Gagnon said the Polymer Innovation Center will help Parker keep its core products relevant to the markets in which it operates. What worked over the last five years likely will not be acceptable to customers five years from now as technologies advance.
When the competition is often a smaller company, Gagnon said Parker needs to be able to develop new products at the same rate.
“From a commercial standpoint, it's all about speed,” he said.
The Polymer Innovation Center includes a support lab, processing area, offices, conference space and a variety of equipment—including a five-story polytetrafluoroethylene paste tower for medical tubing development. The center has the ability to perform extrusion, injection molding and vertical paste extrusion.
Fisher said Parker can test a variety of polymers ranging from general thermoplastics to thermoset rubber, silicone and both melt and paste fluoropolymers.
The center includes a process lab used to mock up and experiment with radiology and radiometry and a Class 10,000 clean room for assembling, inspecting, cleaning and packaging life science and medical devices. Parker can perform extruding and manufacturing in the clean room.
All of the various machines in the Polymer Innovation Center can be moved around and re-configured using utilities that drop from the ceiling. The machines are matched to those used throughout Parflex's manufacturing network to allow the center to build a prototype and a process that Parker can replicate throughout its network.
“It's very difficult to break into production to utilize the equipment and build prototypes,” Fisher said. “But you still need to develop prototypes from concept to reality fast. This is a dedicated center that has dedicated equipment for purposes of removing all the risk, developing the product and making it repeatable with the intent of transferring it to a Parker facility.”
Parker and the Cleveland Clinic have been growing their partnership since 2007. Fisher said the medical firm gives Parker access to clinicians, biomedical engineers and surgeons for in-depth analysis of how to improve tools and procedures.
Parker takes the clinic's issues under its knife in an effort to improve processes.
“They have a concept of how to make a procedure more efficient and more effective, but what they need is a partner to build that first prototype quickly because they don't have the systems to do that,” Fisher said.
The Cleveland Clinic had a hand in helping Parker design its center, providing feedback on how to operate a clean room, the type of equipment needed and what kind of testing methods are necessary.
Parker also collaborates with the University of Akron to bring it closer to polymer science and engineering research work, which Fisher said is necessary to develop new ideas.
Parker has a small market share in medical, which lends the market to growth opportunities. Gagnon said the firm isn't interested in breaking into the commodity type tubing and products; instead it prefers to target research type products—taking an existing product and try to improve it for surgeons and patients.
“The division has never made a "me too' product. Any product that this division has developed and marketed has, at one time, been an innovative product. It's taken an existing product that a customer is using, went in and evaluated it, and we tried to make it better,” Gagnon said.
“In order to continue that, to keep our existing products relevant to the marketplace, it requires a center like this because if we are going to compete successfully in the market, we have to be fast, getting something from concept to commercialization as quickly as possible.”