A customer came to Jamestown Plastics looking for a catheter tray in 1985, but Jamestown Plastics didn’t make any catheter trays and one measuring 48" x 2" didn’t exist in the industry. So, Jamestown Plastics CEO Jay Baker says they took a farm-boy approach by modifying their equipment, produced the tray, got their foot in the door of medical manufacturing with a new product, and haven’t looked back since.
Now, about 60% of Jamestown Plastics work is in the medical manufacturing industry, either packaging or products. They’re also constantly looking for ways to innovate their products and manufacturing processes from other industries to better suit medical customers. They borrow freely from their other areas of industry innovation and bring it across the fence to the medical industry.
“We’re trying to solve an issue that the customer has through innovation. It’s an amalgamation of their input and our solutions using our experience,” Baker says. “If we’re doing something unique in the automotive industry and that process for tooling innovation doesn’t exist in medical device packaging, we’ll take it and apply it over here.”
When they first got into the medical field, Jamestown Plastics would get the dimensions from the customer then go to a pattern maker. The pattern makers would make the patterns from wood, accounting for shrinkage, and then cast the pattern in aluminum before polishing extensively and assembling the product manually. It was time consuming and dependent on the pattern makers’ skills.
Jamestown Plastics, however, has evolved and now customers can send a data file they import into software that automatically accounts for shrinkage and machines from aluminum without casting. With CNC machining, Jamestown Plastic can turn around customers’ orders quickly.
“We’re making production quality parts in less than 24 hours from concept to a finished product,” Baker says. “That would’ve been completely impossible. And I’m not talking rapid prototyping. I’m talking we’re making an honest-to-gosh tool. And it just keeps getting faster and faster.”
Innovations delivered, not always accepted
With more than 50 machines, including inline thermoformers and vacuum formers, now featuring robotic controls, Jamestown Plastics monitors the variables in the medical manufacturing realm, gets real-time feedback, and improves efficiency. Despite constant communication with customers and willingness to change designs, things haven’t always gone as planned for Baker and his team.
An existing medical customer came to Jamestown Plastics nearly 10 years ago needing to trim cost from their packaging but maintain the same material and size footprint. After meeting with the design and geometry teams, Baker and employees at Jamestown Plastics presented the customer with packaging that used half as much raw material with 2x the strength of the original. The customer showed the new packaging throughout their company and hit a snag in an unlikely department.
“Marketing shut it down. It’s too busy. Nobody mentioned ‘too busy’ in the design requirements,” Baker recalls. “I said, ‘Do you mean too busy like, I’m wearing plaids and stripes and a yellow polka dot tie?’ Marketing says it looks too different visually, from what their customers are used to seeing. And they don’t want to go forward with it.”
The customer missed out on nearly $500,000 annual savings in packaging costs.
However, Jamestown Plastics helped another customer save hours of time every day after simply getting a plant tour near Brownsville, Texas. A Jamestown employee watched operators line up, open boxes, and break apart thermoform trays for hours after they became stuck together in the cross-country journey to the plant. Jamestown Plastic then built a customized machine that automatically shuffled and stacked the thermoform trays to keep them from sticking together in transit.
As more companies attempt to re-shore their operations in the United States, Jamestown Plastics is helping their customers start the transition. Instead of trying to get the tooling from their customers’ offshore supply, which may also be incompatible in America, the company offers to retool for their customers. It improves production since Jamestown Plastics can remove any problems the customers had in their offshore production process while they rebuild their operations stateside.
Pandemic, supply challenges
Jamestown Plastics, like most manufacturers, has been dealing with issues created by COVID-19. Then in February 2021 there was an unprecedented event in Texas when a winter storm caused a global plastics shortage because numerous chemical plants were shut down due to frozen pipes that ruptured and had to be repaired, adding to an already crunched supply chain. “There was an excellent article in the Buffalo News that discussed how the lead time in materials went from 6 to 8 weeks to 6 to 8 months,” Baker says. “We didn’t have that extreme of a problem because based on the decades-long relationships we have with our major customers, as well as our supply base, we were able to place orders for months’ worth of material to support customers.”
The company continues to deal with pandemic-related issues, whether it’s shipping delays, supply crunches, or worker shortages, but they continue to face the challenges and Baker knows they’ll survive as they roll with the punches.
“The evolution, it’s just a breathtaking thing and accelerating,” Baker says. “We pride ourselves on always being on the cutting edge of something. If we can’t find it, we’ll invent it if we need to.”
Jamestown Plastics: https://www.jamestownplastics.com