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Texcel Sees Dramatic Growth in Medical Device Manufacturing
Keith Checca

Keith Checca stands in Texcel’s manufacturing facility in East Longmeadow, where complicated, implantable medical devices are created.

In the 1990s, Texcel, a company that designs and constructs devices and components for some of the most highly regulated markets in the world, was working on some big things — literally. The company was a major player in the aerospace and defense industries, but gradually that started to change, and today Texcel works with international clients to devise some of the smallest, most intricate medical technologies ever seen. And this, the company has found, is where its heart lies.

Larry Derose, president of Texcel, a medical device manufacturer in East Longmeadow, said there’s story behind every tiny component his company creates that speaks volumes regarding the importance of this work.

“We’ve had clients come back to us with presentations that show how a device is working in its early stages,” he said. “We’ve seen stroke victims who’ve improved enough to use the telephone or change a diaper. When you’re working to develop theories that have that kind of promise, everyone feels connected to the process, and everyone sees how important their work is.”

Derose founded Texcel in 1987, and said it was always his passion to work with this type of technology. However, only recently has the company come into its own with the development of complex, implantable medical devices — some of which many within health care and technology fields see as the future of modern medicine.

“Our long-term goal was to use our expertise in the field of medical devices,” said Derose, noting that this expertise includes the use of precise, high-powered lasers, clean-room assembly, and product and process development. “It took a number of years to achieve that while we waited for the market to develop. But new information in this field is triggering a wave of new device design and development, and that’s creating a great number of opportunities for us.”

Bionic Biology

Texcel contracts with several different international companies to help them develop devices including pacemakers, endoscopic surgical instruments, spinal orthopaedic implants, total artificial hearts, and neurostimulators. More specifically, this line of work is dubbed ‘implantable device architecture and construction.’

Some in the industry refer to Texcel as an ‘integrator,’ because it joins technology with the necessary raw materials, both figuratively and literally.

Due in part to increased activity in the development of neurostimulating devices in particular, Texcel is now enjoying a major growth period in its history. Keith Checca, director of business development for the company, said several new employees with expertise in areas specific to the medical device market have joined the company over the past three years, nearly doubling its size.

“The last two years have been really explosive,” said Checca. “We’ve realized what we’re good at, and we know how to focus it — that’s really the key for a contract company like us. Our clients are everything.”

Checca said attention to this specific niche in the medical device market is important to working with these diverse clients, most of which are kept confidential by Texcel.

“We’re big enough to offer everything that’s needed, and small enough to remain a dynamic firm that’s easy to work with,” he said. “Clients don’t want to hear ‘we can’t do that’ — they want you to be an infinite well. That’s where our focus on that niche comes back in.”

Planes, Trains, and Biomanufacturing

But it also helps to underscore the company’s long-held mission to use its capabilities for the greater good, despite many years of building to this point and working in other fields. Medical manufacturing was not as brisk in the past as it is today, Checca explained, and over the years, this has opened the door to contracts in other highly regulated fields such as aerospace and defense.

“The medical device market was evolving, but aerospace and defense were already here,” he said, adding, however, that as global needs and trends began to shift, Texcel began taking on more medical device work, and today, that sector represents more than 95% of the company’s contracts.

A handful of aerospace- and defense-related partners remain, but with an FDA- and ISO-registered environment in which to work and a medical technology boom underway around the world, Checca said the company has long been primed and ready to become a strong player in this sector.

“Equipment-wise, we haven’t had to change much,” said Checca. “We are a laser-processing, controlled environment, and that’s technology that is being adopted by the medical community. This has been not so much a facility-changing event as it has been a culture-changing event.”

New partnerships have also emerged, including one forged in June with Microtest Labs of Agawam. The strategic alliance will capitalize on a particularly healthy aspect of medical manufacturing — combination products, which pair devices with pharmaceutical or biologic components like those Microtest works with. The market is expected to reach approximately $9.5 billion in 2009.

Checca added that the existing emphasis placed on quality of both work product and service has been another hallmark of Texcel’s foray into this arena.

“Perfect is barely good enough,” he said, borrowing a phrase he said he heard at a recent internal meeting. “We’re lucky to have built a culture focused on that very early, and it’s something of which we are constantly aware.”

Theories of Evolution

Still, Checca added, with such growth spurts come some requisite internal changes, including some to workforce development and process management. With potential openings for professionals ranging from engineers to manufacturing technicians and assembly operators, Texcel has forged relationships with several area colleges, including Springfield Technical Community College, Western New England College, UConn, and the University of Hartford, to create a sort of educational pipeline to its doors.

“It’s a little hard to find applicable experience in this area because there aren’t as many companies doing what we do,” he said. “But last year, the story would have been all about growth; we climbed that hill, and we’re still breathing heavy, but now we’re moving forward.”

Checca said Texcel is likely to continue expanding in size, both physically and in terms of staff, which now totals about 65 people.

“There will be further growth at a slower pace,” he said. “Now, we’re more focused on refining the mix. The life cycle of some of the products we manufacture is very long, often five or six years until they’re ready for use on humans, and until our client is ready to ask us for more than a few. To that end, we’re looking now to be even more efficient on the manufacturing side, and changing how we manufacture.”

One way the company is striving to do this is through ‘cellular manufacturing,’ which spreads work on a single item out more evenly throughout the facility. Checca calls it a “tried and true manufacturing principle” that can be applied to many different industries, and can especially help improve efficiency among growing businesses.

It’s also another system of checks and balances in this highly regulated environment, which also includes several clients (Checca estimates there are about four dozen) with varying development schedules.

“These companies don’t follow the old vertical-integration model,” he said. “Because the process of developing a medical device is a long one, they need suppliers that can cover the needs of an entire product, and that will remain strong partners for the long term.”

Part of Texcel’s business model is to actively seek out these types of companies, and educate the industry as a whole regarding its capabilities.

“But they’re out there searching for us, as well,” Checca said. “If we’re doing our job right, we find them before they find us.”

The Human Experience

Derose said that active recruiting, so to speak, leads to a greater number of opportunities to help in the creation of new, innovative, and potentially life-saving devices.

“It’s inspiring when a client approaches us with a product that hasn’t been recognized by the public or even the medical community yet,” he said. “Usually, when a client comes to us, they’re in the embryonic stage of development. We’re a high-tech manufacturer, but really, we act like a fulfillment agency.

“We help them convert a dream into a reality.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

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