Oliver Has Great Sticktoitiveness

    GRAND RAPIDS — Oliver Products Co. serves three distinct markets with three separate divisions, one of which provides a wide range of sterile-grade packaging materials for medical device manufacturers worldwide. 

    Oliver Product’s 25-year-old medical device packaging division creates specialized, individual packaging for sterilized medical devices and products.

    Jeff Murak, the division’s director of sales and marketing, says such packaging encloses catheters, artificial heart valves, surgical instrument kits and urological instruments, plus orthotic devices such as artificial joints and hips.

    Oliver Products also has a bakery equipment division that supplies a full line of bakery equipment and machines. The third division deals with industrial and food packaging. It provides senior meal packaging and packaging for convenience store foods.

    All three divisions operate out of the same facilities but are separate business units.

    The medical packaging division serves clients in more than 50 countries. About 85 percent of the business comes from medical device manufacturers in the United States, where the industry is concentrated.

    The company doesn’t accept products into the facility or package them for clients, Murak explained. The staff takes master rolls of raw materials, applies adhesive to them, prints logos or labels on the packages and converts the material into a form usable for individual customers.

    Customers may buy the product in roll form, in bags or individual cut sheets.

    “We’re a converter. Our proprietary product is our adhesive,” Murak said. “Adhesive is vital to medical packaging because a clean, clear peel is required for sterilized devices, and that’s something Oliver specializes in.”

    The medical division has more than 500 clients. It works with a lot of large medical device manufacturers, such as Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, and Cook Group, converting materials such as Tyvek, a DuPont product, or paper, films and foils into a packaging form.

    In the 1980s, DuPont approached Oliver Products about the possibility of applying an adhesive coating to its Tyvek brand protective materials for medical applications.

    “That’s when Oliver’s medical device packaging business took off,” Murak said. 

    The division also has available in house a team of packaging engineers that consult with the engineering groups of medical device manufacturers to create custom packaging solutions.

    Oliver’s medical device packaging includes: coated Tyvek lids and roll stock; fiber-free peelable paper lids and roll stock; autoclavable Tyvek lids, roll stock and pouches; coated and uncoated pre-formed pouches; coated films, foil laminates and non-wovens for barriers and other special packaging needs; and transparent UV absorbing film.

    Murak said the average order is about $25,000, but orders can range from $1,000 to $500,000.

    A typical order, for example, might be for 10,000 to 100,000 pouches or for 10,000 to 300,000 linear feet of roll stock. Three- to four-week production lead times are customary, Murak said.

    The company has 230 non-union employees working three shifts at two controlled-environment facilities, one here in Grand Rapids at company headquarters on Sixth Street and another in the town of Venray in the Netherlands.

    The Venray facility is devoted primarily to medical device packaging, which comprises 54 percent of the company’s business across all three divisions. The other half of Oliver’s business is about equally split between the two other divisions, Murak said.

    The Grand Rapids facility is ISO certified and the medical division is in the process of becoming registered with the Food and Drug Administration.

    Murak explained that medical device manufacturers must be FDA-registered and a lot of customers require that their suppliers be FDA-registered.

    The registration will basically raise the bar to another level of cleanliness and accountability, Murak observed.

    “Our customers frequently audit us. In fact, we probably have two audits a month from customers. When you’re out selling to a new customer, or even an existing customer, they will have their regulatory people come in and audit to make sure we’re continuing to function at a high level.”

    Murak said the medical device packaging division anticipates growth of 16 percent to 20 percent this year.

    He attributes that to a significant number of new customers and to the strength of the medical industry as a whole, which is expected to grow at an annual rate of 5 percent over the next few years.

    “We’re certainly ahead of the industry’s growth, which means we’re picking up business from our competitors,” Murak remarked. 

    The division competes with three huge conglomerates and is currently ranked No. 4. As Murak explained, medical device manufacturers don’t change package suppliers very readily because of the time and cost involved in doing so. 

    “It’s tough for us because the biggest players in the industry have the lion’s share of the business, but we continue to get new business and steal theirs even though there are a lot of barriers to change.

    “We’re known in the industry as having the best quality of any packaging source. In all the industries Oliver serves, it’s known for quality and service.” 

    Oliver Products was founded in 1890 as a supplier of wood cutting equipment for the furniture industry. During the Depression no one was buying furniture, so the company decided to apply its cutting technology to slicing bread.

    Its bakery equipment division, which produces primarily bread slicers, is its longest-running business segment and has captured roughly 90 percent of the U.S. market share for bread slicers.

    Oliver’s industrial/food packaging division came into the picture about the same time as the medical device packaging division. The division’s growth market these days is in senior meal packaging for Meals on Wheels programs nationwide.

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