ERJ staff report (R&PN)
Kaiserslautern, Germany-Freudenberg & Co. K.G. has opened a manufacturing operation that will make silicone and thermoplastic elastomer medical components for European customers, further expanding the company's presence in the health care field and its Helix Medical brand name.
Helix Medical Europe K.G. planned on starting production this month in a 55,000-sq.-ft. facility-part of an established Freudenberg site-in Kaiserslautern, located near the U.S. Air Force's Ramstein Air Base.
The European unit-which will house molding and close-tolerance single- and multi-lumen extrusion operations-is a sister company of Helix Medical L.L.C., the growing health-care products subsidiary of Freudenberg-NOK G.P. Freudenberg-NOK is a U.S.-based joint venture of Freudenberg and NOK Corp. of Japan.
While Helix has manufactured a large number of its components in the U.S. and exported them to Europe, some customers there had expressed an interest in being serviced locally and said they'd be willing to give the company more business opportunities if that was the case, said Jorg Schneewind, Helix Medical L.L.C. CEO and president.
â€œOur objective is to move our operations closer to our customers so that we can serve their manufacturing and distribution needs on a global level,â€ he said. Being able to build on the infrastructure of an existing facility created a â€œtremendous opportunity for European expansion,â€ he added.
Helix received enough positive feedback to quote jobs right away and win some new contracts, Schneewind said. The production the company is starting this month is new business, not transferred from other sites, he said.
â€œFreudenberg is well-known in Germany and Europe to be a high-end, high-quality, high-tech molder of elastomers,â€ Schneewind said. Going in with that reputation, customers were willing to give the company opportunities, he said.
The site will serve customers from all over continental Europe, including Germany, Switzerland and the Scandinavian nations.
The plant will begin the first phase of a four-step process with silicone molding operations for medical devices in a Class 8 clean room capable of housing about 11 machines, Schneewind said.
Likely by May, Helix will add a second clean room with silicone extrusion, he said.
Through the first quarter of next year, Helix Medical Europe will phase in TPE molding and extrusion capabilities as well, Schneewind said. â€œEventually we want to have all the capabilities there we have in the U.S.,â€ he said.
The operation has 25 people now with a plan to approach 40 employees by year's end, depending on how business develops. Ultimately the facility should employ in the 200-person range, Schneewind said.
The unveiling of Helix Medical Europe is the next step in making Helix a global medical brand, he said. The company is in the process of establishing a Helix Medical Asia subsidiary that eventually will take over business currently within Helix L.L.C.'s APEC Asia unit based in China, he said.
Freudenberg-NOK purchased Jenline Industries Ltd.'s Gloucester, Mass., location in 2004; Helix Medical Inc.'s Carpinteria, Calif., site in 2006; and APEC plants in Baldwin Park, Calif., and Shenzhen, China, in 2008. All the operations were then placed under the Helix Medical L.L.C. umbrella, headquartered in Carpinteria.
The growth of Helix Medical revenues and brand has met and exceeded Freudenberg's expectations, Schneewind said.
Most of the businesses within the Freudenberg Group showed declining sales last year while Helix was expanding beyond projections, and that growth will continue in 2010, he said.
â€œIt shows that the company's diversification strategy-to leverage core competencies and elastomer technology in other markets, such as medical, with a dedicated brand-is just really working,â€ Schneewind said.