Thogus, which began 62 years ago as a tool and die shop and later competed heavily in the automotive market, is now significantly boosting its footprint in the medical market with investments in three separately organized businesses.
The company is soon taking delivery of three new Engel injection molding machines in addition to two added earlier this year, bringing its total number of presses from 30 to 35. A second company under the same roof in Avon Lake, OH, Rapid Prototype and Manufacturing (rp+m), is investigating new metal-based additive manufacturing equipment that will be added to six Stratasys and one Objet Geometries machines.
A third company, just launched, JALEX Medical, will focus on biomedical engineering product development and regulatory and quality assistance. In an interview with Plastics Today, Matt Hlavin said that the medical market, which now only represents about 30% of sales at Thogus, will rise to 60% to 70% in the next five years. Hlavin is the president and owner of all three companies. Total investment at the current 35-acre site west of Cleveland will be $1.6 million in the coming year.
Hlavin’s strategy is unique.
The additive manufacturing and product development businesses will work with other custom injection molders interested in the medical device market. The traditional custom injection molding business may also be a partner at times and will also pursue additional medial molding business in addition to work in other markets.
Hlavin sees a significant potential for additive manufacturing in medical device development. “I feel that because of the small volumes and the ability to produce intricate detail that this technology will be very important in the medical market.” So far the company has produced biopsy needles, cervical plates, cranial screws and a PEEK interbody fusion device with its existing 3-D printing equipment.
Next will be equipment that can create metal components through additive manufacturing, in which components are created in very tiny layers using several different approaches. The Stratasys equipment uses a proprietary process called Fused Deposition Modeling that employs a technology similar to inkjet printing. Thogus is looking at DMLS, or direct metal laser sintering, in which powerful lasers are driven by CAD files to fuse metal (or plastic) powders.
Another possible approach is an emerging solid-state technology called ultrasonic consolidation that uses ultrasonic vibrations and pressure to deposit successive layers of metal strips. Work at the Edison Welding Institute in Columbus, OH has focused on soft aluminum alloys, but several other metals may be used with the process in the future.
Another unique aspect of Hlavin’s approach is use of clean rooms. Thogus has a Class 10,000 clean room for assembly, but not for manufacturing. “We may add one in two years or so, but I’m not totally sure we need one,” he said in the interview. Thogus is seeking ISO 13485 certification, a set of medical device management standards, but Thogus may contract out clean room manufacturing when needed.
One of the company’s development partners is PolyOne, the major compounding and materials engineering company also located in Avon Lake, OH. Thogus helps PolyOne to identify processes and markets for new medical compounds under development.