A well-known Italian group has installed two clean rooms and invested in a micromolding press. Mission: business expansion and diversification. This is the strategy that has made investment sustainable
Traditionally known for the production of parts for the household appliance and automotive sectors, in recent years the Eltek Group has expanded into the medical and nanotechnology sectors. The clean rooms at the production facilities in Casale Monferrato and Hone (Italy) and the recent acquisition of an electric micromolding press demonstrates the company’s interest in investing further in this direction. As Eltek Group’s Business & Development Unit and Supply Chain director, Giuseppe Avonto, explains, «Investment has required careful benchmarking and has become a reality thanks to a “diverse” manoeuvre developed by drawing on our extensive know-how acquired on primary target markets».
How did you take the decision to focus on micromolding?
In the past few years, there has been demand from a number of companies in the medical sector for microparts made using this technology, but the needed investment could not be justified by the volumes in play, which generally did not exceed a few dozen thousand pieces. Then, our interest in operating in high-tech segments in order to remain competitive preserving our vocation of all-Italian made prevailed, and we understood the medical field to be a strategic area. Accurate analysis of our production processes has enabled us to identify potential areas of application for micromolding in traditional processing, hastening the amortisation of a new plant. The turning point was using it to produce a part mounted inside an item for the household appliance industry. The part is a gasket which we previously purchased from a supplier; within a year we were able to produce the gaskets in house, completing the verticalisation process of the production cycle of a piece with an output rate of approximately 25 million pieces a year (see box below).
In addition to the return on investment, will this move bring other advantages?
Yes, because it will raise the quality level of processes and therefore the parts made. Although today the machine is dedicated almost exclusively to the production of gaskets, we can use it to carry out tests prior to the development of new projects as well as the production of pre-series.
Are negotiations already underway that might be concluded in the short-medium term?
We are working on projects relating to microvalves and components for inhalers and, in particular, on an order from an orthopaedic company. The product in question, a structure made up of various plastic parts which is expected to replace the current metal product, will protect patients from the risk of infection, still one of the leading causes of death in hospitals. Then for another client, we are developing a plastic component to be integrated into the electronic microcircuits of radiology machines.
To what extent does the medical sector account for group revenues?
About 2 per cent. A marginal figure, when compared to the overall amount, but significant considering that we entered this segment just four years ago. Our goal is to hit 10 per cent, working on our portfolio of current 30 projects, part of which under the Eltek brand.
What are the most significant ones?
In addition to some plastic parts designed to client specifications, a number of Eltek plastic devices are used, for example, in the dental sector (mouth gags, ortho-boxes). The most significant medical device will soon be ready for its market launch, this spring, once the CE marking procedure is concluded. This is a complete machine with various sets of disposables targeting the regenerative medicine sector, for the preparation of platelet-rich plasma for non-transfusion use (PRP CPunT). Also, on behalf of a manufacturer of small surgical devices, we are developing a project – our design and patent – of tacks for non-absorbable sutures, attachment clips and suture anchors, which are currently being produced in titanium. Lastly, we are in the final development stages of complex devices equipped with sensors for measuring the physiological parameters of various internal organs.
Will micromolding be one of the jewels in your crown?
Without question. Its implementation makes our production technologically state-of-the-art compared to our competitors who don’t have it. From the point of view of our clients, moreover, the benefits of price, in turn closely connected to the special features of this type of processing, are notable.
Does its introduction mean organisational and operational strategies have to be revised?
Eltek’s operating strategy has always involved creating a complete product pipeline. In this case, to meet future needs, clean rooms and assembly lines have been set up in our facilities in Casale Monferrato and Hone. In addition, thanks to the growing importance of Metallux SA (a Swiss company in the Eltek Group), some production that today takes place in Switzerland is moving to Italy. This fact – rare in Italian manufacturing – enables us to fully integrate microelectronics and micromolding.