CEO Pamela McMaster has grown her contract medical packaging business from a one-woman operation to a multi-state manufacturer.
Now with a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing footprint in California and Texas, Pro-Tech Design and Manufacturing has come a long way in 42 years.
“I actually started the company in my family room in 1980,” says McMaster. “I was a packaging rep calling on medical device customers, and I just thought that I could give them better customer service and better design if I went out on my own.”
As a one-woman company, Pro-Tech quickly landed “a huge player” in the industry as a customer, she says. “Today, that first customer is still a customer over 40 years later.”
She focused on design and distribution until her son, Aaron Swanson, joined the company in 1990 and led the charge into manufacturing. The company built a Class 10,000 clean room and focused on sewn goods and contract packaging. Swanson is now the president of the company.
“We have a sewn products division where we make wearable items for the medical device industry — vests and pouches and cases — as well as contract packaging for the majority of the larger — and medium- and small-sized — medical device companies,” says McMaster. “We do assembly of devices, we do cleaning, we do packaging, we do sterilization. We have a certified lab — we actually received ISO 17025 certification labs, so we do a lot of in-house testing of packaging.”
She continues, “We saw a huge need for that. A lot of companies concentrate on the manufacturing of their core device, but a lot of the accessory items that go along with that, they don’t really manufacture.”
Adds Ron Imus, who works in marketing for Pro-Tech: “Companies come to us as an afterthought at times. They’ve spent all their engineering focus on developing the device, and then they go, ‘I’ve got to package this thing and get it to my customers.’ They’re looking for consultants to walk them through what regulations they need to think about, how do they need to sterilize it to make sure it’s free of any contaminants, and what kind of packaging will protect it throughout the production as well as the shipping process.”
A case study: One customer had “overly complicated” packaging and moved to pre-validated packaging from Pro-Tech, says Imus. “We moved them from way too many components and inefficient assembly to something that’s much more streamlined and easier to handle and manufacture,” he explains. “They adopted it, they reduced their cost by double digits, and had a great feeling of: ‘Oh, I didn’t even realize this was possible.'”
Pro-Tech planted a flag in Texas when it opened its Arlington manufacturing facility in 2012. “One of our customers came to me and said, ‘As part of a disaster recovery plan, we really need to work with companies that have two sites,” says McMaster. We looked at two different states, and Texas is just a very business-friendly state, so we decided we would put a second manufacturing facility in Texas.”
“We mirrored the two facilities, so they’re both validated. In the event we have capacity issues here in California, we can run product in Texas, or as part of a disaster recovery plan, we can run product in both Texas and California.”
The business has evolved into a turnkey operation. “Packaging is our main product, but along with that is assisting customers on the design of their products,” says McMaster.
That allows for an integrated approach spanning design to shipping sterilized pallets to the end customers. “We have validated a large, 10-pallet chamber for sterilization,” says McMaster. “If they only have a pallet of product that would go out every week, they can go as a part of our sterilization validation and pay for one-tenth of that chamber as opposed to an entire chamber if they were doing it on their own.”
Pro-Tech saw revenues grow by 18 percent in 2021, as the Texas facility has set a fast pace: Output has doubled since late 2020. “In the future, we have a lot of growth opportunities in Texas,” says McMaster. “We purchased the five acres of raw land behind our building.”
It follows that the company is in the process of increasing its capacity. “We’re about to double the size of our clean rooms in both California and Texas,” says McMaster, citing target completion in late 2022 of a 6,000-square-foot expansion in California and a 3,000-square-foot expansion in Texas. “We’re going to have 100 percent more capacity than we have now. We run two shifts in both facilities.”
“Our mantra is customer first,” she adds. “We’ve established a 24/7 customer portal that allows customers to have a dedicated window into their projects. It gives them peace of mind. They can track their projects through the entire manufacturing process.”
Challenges: “Supply chain issues really are our largest challenge right now,” says McMaster. For example, pouches that had a six-week lead time before the pandemic now ship in about six months.
Pro-Tech has put more work into planning and communication in response, she adds. “It just means you have to be very transparent with your customers, which we always have been, and really work closely with them to give them the product that they need.”
Opportunities: “I think there’s a lot of opportunities to drive future sales,” says McMaster. “More companies are now seeing the benefits of working with contract packagers.”
Needs: Employees. “We have about 45 in Texas — and it’s growing,” says McMaster.
She adds, “We have a really great nucleus of employees now. We have several employees who have dedicated their entire working career to Pro-Tech and actually retired from Pro-Tech.”