MIRAMAR, Fla.—Simtec Silicone Parts has added a Class 8 clean room within its Miramar facility.
The 1,000-sq.-ft. clean room, the company's first at the facility, comes as a response to requests by new life science industry customers, Managing Director Frank Dilly said. Simtec's overall facility is about 86,000 square feet.
While some of its products don't require a certified clean room, it was a logical next step for customers with strict particle contamination guides and that value process stability, Dilly said.
"We built it in a way that we wanted to keep the machines out of the clean room and have the machines produce into the clean room," he said. "We've got two rows of presses, one row is two-shot machines, one row is one-shot machines. We were lucky to have just enough space to put a clean room in the middle between the rows."
The setup allowed the company to use existing floor space for the clean room rather than adding onto the facility itself, he said. It also allows for access to other existing infrastructure, such as for tool setup and material staging without contaminating or walking into the clean room. Parts are automatically fed into the clean room from the presses by a conveyor or robot.
Within the clean room, the operator inspects and packages the parts or places the parts in a clean post-cure oven, which also is attached to and opens into the clean room, Dilly said.
"By doing so, we basically only bring operators in and out of the clean room or plastic bags," Dilly said. "No cartons, no materials, no molds."
The clean room, while built to be as small as possible within the facility space, can accommodate six presses. Dilly said the addition shows the company's commitment to the life science market segment and will open up new opportunities.
"It's one thing to build a smart infrastructure, but it's more important that our team lives it, follows the updated procedures to make sure that we make good use of the infrastructure and the technology that we put in place," Dilly said.
It also establishes process stability using automation, as parts are delivered to the clean room without operators accessing the machines directly, he said.
"This is in line with our DNA, with an uncompromising way of doing things automated," Dilly said. "We keep the machines out of the clean room in separate enclosures, producing into the clean room. This is very important for the life science industry. They want process reliability and process stability."
It also aligns with the company's goal to grow in the life science industry, where it sees the biggest future opportunity, Dilly said. The segment matches Simtec's technology capabilities and volumes for consumables in medical devices, especially with products in diabetes care, eye health and drug delivery devices. The firm produces liquid silicone rubber and LSR multi-shot injection molding parts.
Dilly said life science market growth is very high, with considerable reshoring of customers setting up manufacturing and assembly operations in the U.S.
The new clean room was built in a way to allow future expansion by opening the south wall and extending it between the rows of existing machines, Dilly said. Plans are in place to start a new phase of expansion for the clean room sometime in the next year with a goal to complete in early 2021.
Simtec hired about five people with the addition, including engineers for project engineering, process engineering and quality, as well as secondary operators, Dilly said.
The clean room went into operation at the end of March with a ramp-up period, he said. The company also has new machines on order, meant to arrive during the summer, to build infrastructure for increased growth.
Along with the undisclosed investment for the clean room, Simtec invested in its mold shop to expand its capabilities in mold maintenance repair, Dilly said. Company staff also was trained alongside Simtec's sister company, Silcoplast A.G. in Switzerland. Silcoplast has a Class 7 clean room in its facility.
Simtec has access to Silcoplast as a part of the Austrian-based Rico Group, a global network of liquid silicone rubber molding technology businesses, which acquired Simtec in 2016. Simtec started in 2001 in Wisconsin and moved to its Florida location in 2013.