Customer focus pays off for Medbio with rapid growth
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Customer focus pays off for Medbio with rapid growth

Apr 02, 2024

Grand Rapids, Mich. — Sean Callaghan calls Medbio LLC the "field of dreams." As in, "If you build it, they will come."

It's a cliché, but it rings true. The company is less than 20 years old but already a Processor of the Year finalist.

Sure, Medbio started with zero customers. But shortly after it was founded, it brought on board a leadership team with a desire to use everything it learned from their years of managing plastics companies to create an innovative medical molder that would be an employer of choice and a solid corporate citizen in the communities where it operates.

And now the company is also winner of the 2022 Plastics News Excellence Award for Customer Relations.

While Medbio posted excellent marks for all the Processor of the Year criteria, its customer relations, technology, quality and financial performance were all exceptional.

One customer that's been using Medbio for nearly 10 years appreciated that the company purchased a great mold shop and also expanded its use of additional external mold shops, moves that helped improve lead times and tool quality.

They added: "Their interactive approach to design for moldability speeds our time to market. They have about 95 percent of our molding business. [Medbio gets an] A+ in all respects."

Another customer called Medbio a "fire and forget" vendor. "I fire off a [purchase order] to them, get a confirmation, and I no longer have to worry about the delivery dates. I know they will deliver when promised."

It added that this company's quality is second to none.

"They have my strongest possible endorsement," the company told the PN judges.

Callaghan said the key was to be customer-focused.

"The biggest thing was we said we're not going to be like the big companies we came from," he said. "We are very culture-focused, both internally with the employees and externally with the community. We make sure we do some kind of community event every month. We do employee events every month," he said.

"The other side of it is we are extremely strong on the technical side. There is nothing we are afraid of trying. We love to experiment, adapt and create, and I think that has gotten us a long way with some of our customers, on doing a lot of things that other companies won't quote."

Medbio got its start as Tillman Industries in a small building with five injection molding machines in Grand Rapids in 2004. A big change came in 2006 when Ron and Chris Williams bought the company.

Ron was previously an owner of DLP Inc., a Grand Rapids-based molder that Medtronic Inc. bought in 1994. Chris, who is Ron's son, also had more than a decade of medical manufacturing experience. They gave the company momentum to grow and expand, even during the Great Recession.

"Chris became CEO, and Ron called himself 'camp counselor,' but he came to work every day, just like everybody else. He was there to help, which was great," Callaghan said.

Callaghan mentioned the "field of dreams" metaphor a few times during a recent visit, and it applies not only to finding customers but also the leadership team.

"We all walked away from good jobs. I'm not sure I'd do it again at my age today," he said. "I liked being involved in everything, wearing all of the different hats."

As the medical molding business started to take off, the company bought its current headquarters building and changed its name to Medbio in 2011.

A string of acquisitions followed: Concept Molds in Schoolcraft, Mich., in 2014; AIM Plastics in Clinton Township, Mich., in 2019; and Polymer Conversions in Orchard Park, N.Y., in 2020. The deals added new capabilities, including toolmaking, liquid silicone molding, micromolding and prototyping.

Medbio hit $1 million in annual sales in 2006, and it recently topped $100 million.

Private equity firm Graham Partners bought a majority stake in Medbio in 2018, in partnership with the existing management team. In 2021, Medbio changed hands again when it was purchased by Protective Industries Inc., which is owned by investment company Berwind Corp.

Medbio was an early adopter of Industry 4.0 technology, particularly as it applies to automation. Ethan Bruyn, manufacturing technology leader, started at the company in 2014 and today is the manufacturing technology leader.

"In the past couple of years, we've built an automation department. We have the ability to build a [molding] cell internally," Bruyn said. "We still outsource certain things. But when it comes to controls, install and the build portion of it, we can handle that without an issue."

In 2023, Callaghan said the company will continue to invest in automation and technology. It also plans to implement environmental, social and governance (ESG) and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) plans this year.

Jesse Colclasure, a senior project engineer who has been with the company for 17 years — almost since the beginning of the company — told a story about how tight-knit Medbio remains, even after years of rapid growth.

"Four years ago, I had a house fire and I lost everything. And then the company got together and they had a donation drive. They brought clothes for my kids, clothes for me. Until I got the insurance money, I was wearing hand-me-down clothes from people here. It was really a humbling experience. It really drove home the family we have here; it was amazing," Colclasure said.

"Afterward, we had a drive for the Red Cross because they were so helpful in my recovery, and we had a raffle and donated the proceeds to the Red Cross, and that was really cool," Colclasure added.

Employees said they feel the company is doing important work, making highly engineered, complex medical devices and components that save lives.

"It's cool to make things out of plastic like we do. But in the medical field, it's a little different. It feels like you're helping someone, you're doing something good. … It's something different when your parts save a life," Callaghan said.

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