BEAVERTON, Mich.—Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics is out to put a small Michigan town—dubbed the thermoforming capital of the world—on the map for another reason with a $26 million expansion of its life sciences division.
The Solon, Ohio-based subsidiary of Saint-Gobain S.A., is building an 88,000-square-foot facility in Beaverton to add capacity to extrude medical tubing and produce components and assemblies for its customers in the drug manufacturing business.
The expansion will create 60 jobs and increase Saint-Gobain's footprint in the rural town to 148,000 square feet. The company currently is Beaverton's top employer with 251 workers. The community has a population of 1,071.
The growth is being driven by the pharmaceutical industry, which is switching from stainless steel products to disposable plastics and silicones as drugs become more specialized and individualized, said Stephen Maddox, general manager for the life sciences unit of the performance plastics business.
"That's a much smaller-scale approach and in going smaller, that makes plastic all the more economical," Maddox said at a groundbreaking on Sept. 10.
The new facility will make products for drug and vaccine manufacturers to process fluids, added Benjamin Le Quere, manager of Saint-Gobain's bioprocess solutions unit. For an example, he pointed to silicone tubing that branches from two to four to eight lines for filling drug vials.
"In one process step, eight or 16 samples can be collected" and put into smaller containers, Le Quere said.
He oversees Saint-Gobain's new life sciences lab in Worcester, Mass., which tests products for the fast-growing fields of cell and gene therapies. In some cases, scientists are modifying patients' immune cells and sending them back to be used in those people for new therapies that detect and destroy cancer.
The products to be manufactured at the new Beaverton facility will ultimately improve patient care, said Mark Rovoll, engineering manager for Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics.
"This expansion not only allows us to demonstrate our commitment to the city, but it has a worldwide impact focused on producing single-use systems for the liquid drug markets," Rovoll said. "The components and assemblies we make here are utilized in the manufacture of life-saving drugs around the world."
The new facility is expected to be completed in December 2019. It will house extrusion, molding and assembly in a ISO Class 7 production space. The plans also call for additional warehouse space, a development center, materials test lab and office space.
At the groundbreaking, the Beaverton High School band performed and many Saint-Gobain retirees attended. Rovoll said they were not only celebrating new jobs for emerging business but recognizing past efforts to reach this point.
"Without them, we wouldn't be here today," Rovoll said of the retirees. "They started this. It's about that dedication and leadership."
Saint-Gobain is building next to its 60,000-sq.-ft. facility in Beaverton, where its history dates to 1995, when one of its subsidiaries acquired the former Patter Products Inc., a manufacturer of silicone rubber components for the medical market among others.
The region has a skilled workforce in plastics manufacturing. Beaverton is about 25 miles from Midland, Mich., where Dow Chemical Co. is based. In the 1940s, former Dow employees who were experts in the use of polystyrene started their own businesses in the town and built its reputation for thermoforming.
Saint-Gobain's presence now is growing again, Beaverton City Manger Heath Kaplan said.
"Since 2015, the company has experienced a 78 percent increase in employee headcount, from 141 employees to 251 employees today with another 60 planned for the expansion," Kaplan said. "This means that Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics has created a 110 new jobs in our city, which is a very substantial number."
With more than 6,000 employees in 22 countries, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics also manufactures flexible tubing, seals, coated fabrics, foams, window film, barrier/release films and tapes in addition to medical components.
The performance plastics division is part of France-based parent company, Cie de Saint-Gobain. Founded in 1665, the parent company, which also serves the building products, infrastructure, transportation and industrial markets, posted sales of $47.5 billion in 2017. The company has a manufacturing or retail presence in 67 countries and a total of 179,000 employees.