Written by Josh Carmody
A company largely composed of engineers is a company driven by curiosity. Forum Plastics began as a mold builder in Stamford, Connecticut in the early 90s. Designing and creating molds in house with a full-service machine shop, Forum eventually expanded its offering and capabilities by taking on injection molding – and much, much, more.
Setting up shop in a much larger location in Waterbury, Connecticut, and increasing the size of its operations with over forty injection machines, Forum Plastics has become one of the leading injection molders of medical devices in North America. While still maintaining the ability to do most of its own molds, the sheer volume of designs being brought to life through injection molding and 3D printing has seen Forum outsource some of the tooling work.
“Today, although we have mold building and a machine shop in house, due to the volume of molds that we have in production, and the number of new opportunities that come in the door, it has facilitated us to go outside and rely on other mold-building companies,” said Brian C. LaBrec, Director of Sales and Marketing.
Word of mouth
Achieving its current size has compelled Forum Plastics to reach out to tooling companies around the world to keep up with the volume it produces for its clients. Domestic and International mold-builders have been brought into the fold, creating a network of companies linked to Forum’s success. Also linked to Forum’s success is a healthy word of mouth regarding its technical expertise and knowledge of the medical device industry. Forum’s expertise with instrumentation-type medical devices has opened up a wide array of applications such as closure and biopsy devices, and cardiothoracic and neurovascular procedures.
Ever-changing medical science
One particular product is a cannula: we have a strong capability in the molding of cannula-type products. These are basically long, thin tubes that are inserted into a patient with varying features to be integrated into the other components of the device. Typically this is a suite of components provided to the physician when conducting a cardiovascular or a neurovascular procedure. These can include the trocar, the cannula, and then some other devices that actually perform the procedure. All of these different pieces have to be integrated and work seamlessly for the physician, so a lot of the designs are becoming more and more challenging” said Brian.
“Forum is vigilant about the quality and tolerancing of the product, as someone’s life may depend on a particular device.”
The ever-changing face of medical science means that Forum Plastics has to keep up with new and complex procedures whether they are robotic or manual. When assisting clients with new medical device designs, Forum Plastics has to keep all of this in mind as well as managing the size of the device, the material used in its construction and helping clients avoid infringement on intellectual property rights.
On top of all of that Forum is also vigilant about the quality and tolerancing of the product, as someone’s life may depend on a particular device or the precision of a procedure. Forum has made a reputation for itself as being able to not only attack these problems head-on but revel in the challenge.
Partnering with clients
Forum likes to get involved with a project very early on so it can be there for the beginning of the design process. This way Forum is able to help guide the features of the design and use its expertise to build a robust part that will ultimately be more reliable and easier to manufacture.
By offering its expertise upfront, Forum is able to catch problems before going too far down the design process, smoothing out any kinks that could interrupt the manufacturing process, avoiding pitfalls in the field.
Also available through Forum Plastics is the ability to perform pad printing. With nineteen pad-printing machines in house, this has become a secondary operation with nearly as much volume as injection molding. Pad printing is a versatile technology used on challenging 3D surfaces and materials such as compound curves, recessed areas, and textures, so the client’s unique artwork is professionally printed anywhere they desire. With Forum’s expertise in working with inks for proper color and adhesion to plastic, it is able to offer top-of-the-line quality pad printing for virtually any product.
Being a contract manufacturer means that non-medical clients also present Forum Plastics with special orders and problems that they believe only Forum has the wherewithal to tackle. When clients can’t get what they need, from a critical dimension or quality standpoint, the first port of call is often Forum. These are often high-end industrial, military or time-sensitive clients that are in dire need of mission-critical parts.
Forum Plastics is a fully collaborative company that mostly consists of engineers and is growing fast, evidenced by having recently been bought by the private equity firm Squadron Capital, a company usually perceived as hands-off investors. With Squadron Capital placing their trust in the expertise of Forum Plastics the company is able to head in progressive new directions while maintaining a staff of 150, many of them long term employees in an environment respectful of their worth.
Being a company full of engineers, working in a very technical environment, has naturally brought about a relaxed approach, in the best possible way, to how clients are serviced. For instance, Forum Plastics is open about its processes and modalities and willingly offers free advice off the top if it will help clients with their designs.
Recently Forum has taken to CT scanning for customers who have lost the history of their modifications; by reverse engineering the client’s parts, Forum is able to determine the exact dimensions and so get the client back up to speed. As well as for reverse engineering, CT scanning is used to inspect parts and determine the dimensions and geometry of a molded component and how closely it matches the customer’s model and print.
In recent years, Forum Plastics has begun to help startups that it feels have a viable product or prototype but lack the capital to make their dream a reality. By offering the financing to get a product off the ground, Forum takes part in the design and success of a new company, as well as freshening up the market with new ideas and products.
In the coming year Forum will continue helping companies and the market by financing prototypes, sharing its expertise in the design process of new and existing products, and finding better ways to produce medical devices.
With its years of relevant experience and expertise Forum Plastics looks very likely to continue long into the future, bringing value to medical devices and startups while growing both in sales and in depth and breadth as a company. Operating in a technical environment with deeply curious and inventive engineers, hungry for the next job, will surely foster an environment of creativity.
So, given a keen eye for designs, the ever-changing nature of medical technology, new ways to engineer devices, and a desire to support the eruption of brave new companies into the market, expect to see Forum Plastics sustain their leadership.
Brian naturally puts it the way an engineer would: “We just want to solve problems and work with people who want to work with us.