In Laguna Hills, the firm has taken on ambitious projects, including steps to energize its team and set in place plans to continue investing in its growth strategy in coming years, said Carlson, Smooth-Bor's second-generation leader.
Smooth-Bor is adapting with plans to "reduce overtime and open some capacity on existing production lines," Carlson said. The firm "increased power into the building, improved compressed air, chiller and process water systems and is keeping up with the state regulations coming out of Sacramento."
Smooth-Bor has added more extrusion and injection molding equipment, hired staff in executive, engineering, quality, lean manufacturing and human resource positions and acquired an off-site warehouse in nearby Lake Forest for raw materials and finished goods.
The company's employees at the warehouse manage inventories and handle distribution and shipping.
The California operations, which employ more than 100, also have invested in automation and robotics to modernize its processes, along with using lean manufacturing methods.
"We have contracted with an automation integrator to use a combination of off-the-shelf automation with some custom components to develop a pick-and-place system," Carlson said. "It is new and still being debugged."
The firm plans to phase in additional automated processes in the next two years.
Recently, the NSAI recertified the Laguna Hills facility under the revised ISO 13485:2016 standard.
In an initiative, Smooth-Bor started development of the new AltaFlex-brand CPAP tubing in 2015. Production started in April. The AltaFlex product differs in appearance and feel from other CPAP tubing and is designed to provide a "better user experience," Carlson said.
For other production, Smooth-Bor overmolds end cuffs from a vendor onto standard non-heated tubes using Arburg injection molding equipment.
"We are seeking to expand our capabilities and, in-house, use the overmolding process on heated tubing to support the CPAP and ventilator markets, thus providing a single source for our customers," Caiozzo said.
Across its product line, Smooth-Bor uses high and low density polyethylene, thermoplastic elastomers including ethylene vinyl acetate and styrene ethylene butylene styrene copolymers and other prime resins.
Medical accounts for about 85 percent of the company's sales. Applications include custom-designed tubing for CPAP equipment, respiratory care, anesthesia delivery and noiseless smoke evacuation applications. The latter product line can remove the plume of dangerous smoke that emanates from a medical technician's use of a disposable laser surgical or electric scalpel.
The bulk of Smooth-Bor's commercial products address pool and spa, carwash vacuum and recreational vehicle applications.
Eric Carlson became CEO in 2015, succeeding his inventive father, Jim Carlson, who attended a trade school, then emigrated to the U.S. from Vaenersborg, Sweden.
Jim Carlson found work as a machine builder and tool maker for a toy manufacturer. The firm transferred him to a Costa Mesa, Calif., subsidiary that was making vacuum hoses.
He evaluated the technology, saw potential product improvements and independently started his business in 1971 in nearby Santa Ana.
It was Jim Carlson's creativity that allows Smooth-Bor to say it was the first to develop an all-plastic corrugated tube with a smooth inner bore to promote laminar flow. The product was designed to compete with blow molded wire-supported corrugated tubing.
The Smooth-Bor product found early uses in the markets for disposable breathing tubes and recreational vehicle cold-water-fill and sewer-drain lines.
Early successes allowed him to build the bulk of the Laguna Hills plant in 1978 and to construct a contiguous addition in the early 1980s.
Jim Carlson's wife, Judy, was an integral part of the business until her death in 2011. Jim Carlson died in 2016.
Family members have many years of service.
Eric Carlson joined the business in his youth and, like his father, has multiple patents on tubing-related technologies.
One of Eric's uncles, John Quinn, retired from Smooth-Bor, and Eric's brother in law, Al Bruder, manages the commercial business along with sales and marketing functions.
Eric's wife, Jennifer, serves as executive vice president primarily dealing with Smooth-Bor human relations needs.
Since 2015, Smooth-Bor has evolved from a family-run business with a flat organizational structure to one with many levels of delegated responsibility, Caiozzo said.
Among others on board is Tamsen Hughes, who serves as Smooth-Bor director of business development.
In 2013, Smooth-Bor expanded to manufacture product in Spartanburg, S.C., but the anticipated logistics changed. It closed the operation in 2015 and consolidated work in Laguna Hills.
Family-owned and operated Stewart Plastics Inc., a legal entity, does business as Smooth-Bor Plastics. The closely held mid-market company does not disclose financial results.
"We've had great success in executing on our growth initiatives over the past few years," Eric Carlson said. "Together with our highly skilled and energized team, we plan to continue investing in people, technology and innovation in the coming years."