The longstanding manufacturer of ceramics is on a path to dynamic growth in medical as a supplier to implant OEMs.

CoorsTek has been on the leading edge of technical ceramics for quite some time. The global manufacturer launched CoorsTek Bioceramics (formerly CoorsTek Medical and C5 Medical Werks) in 2005, more than a century after the company started doing business in Colorado as Herold China and Pottery Company in 1910.

A wholly owned subsidiary of the 6,000-employee CoorsTek, CoorsTek Bioceramics “is our implantables division,” says Global VP of Bioceramics Lucian Strong. “One of the Coors family members started a medical division way back when, and really there was an identified area where we could supply materials and products into the surgical business, specifically into operating rooms at the time, and that has moved on to implantable products.”

Ceramics are a good match for implants for a number of reasons, he adds. “Ultimately, with the hardness and strength and biocompatibility of the ceramic material, it’s an ideal material to put into the body, and you don’t have to worry about wear like you did with metals in the past. You can put a ceramic in the body and the ceramic’s going to outlast the patient.”

Citing an alignment in values, medical implants for hip replacements and other procedures are “very much a sweet spot” for CoorsTek, says CoorsTek co-CEO Jonathan Coors. “For all of us, it’s pretty exciting to think about how our ceramics directly impact people’s ability to walk again and go back to their normal lives that they had before.”

Beyond implants, CoorsTek Bioceramics makes a number of other products, including brachytherapy seeds for targeted radiation treatment and cochlear implants. “Ceramic is a great material to be used in many different applications, but in cochlear implants or neurological implants, they’re excellent for feed-throughs, they allow for electrical wires to go through the ceramic and insulate those wires,” says Strong.

The ISO 13485-certified and FDA-compli­ant manufacturing operation shares a facility with CoorsTek’s industrial division in Grand Junction. The company has made more than 6 million ceramic implant components since its founding.

“All the manufacturing for this division is done out of Grand Junction, here in Colorado,” says Strong. “We have mid-50s, approaching 60 employees there right now, with a number of open positions.”

CoorsTek’s vertical integration allows CoorsTek Bioceramics to “largely control our own destiny in terms of raw materials,” he adds. The parent company works with more than 400 unique compositions of technical ceramics.

Bioceramics production is similar to other ceramic manufacturing processes within CoorsTek’s global footprint — utilizing high-temperature furnaces to sinter, or fire, the final products — with a few major distinctions. “Tolerances and quality expectations are significantly higher,” notes Strong. “There are a lot more checks and balances in our bioceramics facility than there are for products like igniters, for example. We talk about it all the time: You cannot have a quality issue for an implantable product.”

Challenges: “In Grand Junction specifically — that’s our only manufacturing location for these products right now — it’s finding qualified labor and then getting the equipment in,” says Strong. “The supply chain overall globally is still very challenging, and we need specialized equipment that we have to order and bring in, and we have to qualify and validate that equipment before we can produce parts.”

He adds, “Is there access to labor? And can we get those machines for operators to produce parts? That’s really our constraint in this space. The market is there, the demand is there.”

Photos courtesy CoorsTek Bioceramics

Opportunities: Scaling production and sales of femoral heads for hip replacements is at the top of the list. “It’s a great opportunity for us to grow in a dynamic market that’s growing,” says Coors. “We’re a growing player, but a small player.”

Components for knee and other joint replacements are likely the next portfolio expansion. “It’ll take some partnership between ceramics manufacturing and the medical device OEMs and surgeons to say, ‘We need a better material than a plastic or a metal for a particular joint,'” says Strong. “As one of the largest engineered ceramics companies in the world, we think we’re best-positioned to have those conversations with customers.”

Needs: Equipment and labor. With construction on an expansion underway in Grand Junction, equipment is on order, and hiring is ramping up before it arrives.

“There are two things we are trying to balance,” says Strong. “One is: When will the building be completed? The second one is: When will the equipment come in? The CoorsTek Bioceramics philosophy on hiring is: We want to hire ahead of when we really need those people, because we want to bring them onto the floor and get them comfortable with the processes and the training before the equipment they’re going to be operating comes in.”

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