At the Leading Edge
For decades, America’s leading surgical instrument suppliers designed, built and sold their tools to hospitals and clinics in carefully sterilized packages emblazoned with their companies’ brand names.
Part of that process involved seeking out vendors to manufacture parts and materials that could be incorporated into their finished products. Specialty Blades - a maker of highly engineered industrial blades in Staunton, Virginia - became part of that supply chain, eventually refocusing its business on cutting parts for medical applications, where the growth prospects seemed greatest.
From the time it was founded in 1985, the company had built a reputation for its engineering prowess, for its process equipment design capabilities, and for pushing the technology involved in placing sharp edges on metal. So its gradual transition into surgical blades, culminating in a dedicated medical division in 2005 and its 2008 acquisition of a Rhode Island tube and syringe company, offered a natural fit and confirmed its place as a partner to the leading medical device companies.
But a long-term movement to outsource manufacturing, which cut across the entire industrial landscape, was changing the business environment. Name-brand companies, which had previously worked with dozens of vendors to procure components for their medical tools, began to consolidate their supplier families. A growing demand for suppliers who could custom-build entire instruments, allowing the OEMs to focus attention on their design, sales and distribution capabilities rather than on manufacturing, began to fundamentally reshape the industry.
Climbing the Valve Chain
To Cadence, as the company re-branded itself in 2011, the change was seen as an opportunity to move its operations further up the industry’s value chain - to contract-manufacture complete surgical instruments for its customers rather than just the cutting components that its reputation was originally built around. To hasten that transition and provide a timely response to a major customer project, the company considered making multiple acquisitions before finally deciding to turn to Pittsburgh, where they felt it could start up quickly, from scratch, while maintaining its own corporate culture.
Years before, while they were both employed at Medrad in Indianola, Cadence VP and General Manager Marc Mabie - a graduate of CMU’s Tepper Business School - had connected with future Cadence President and CEO Alan Connor. Both men understood that for their new medical device division to get up to speed quickly, they would need to tap into the region’s rich management and engineering talent network.
“The Pittsburgh area has a strong culture of science, math, engineering, and technology with Pitt and CMU,” Mabie reflected. “So we knew we would not have a problem bringing in engineering talent. When you add in the region’s medical technology companies and all the science and healthcare start-up businesses around Pittsburgh, it creates a good pool of talent to draw from.”
Starting earlier this year, the company leased a 21,000 square foot space from Cranberry Business Park in which it built a 2,500 square foot clean room outfitted with advanced generation welding tools. “We looked at six or eight alternate locations in Pittsburgh,” Mabie recalled. “One of the reasons we ended up choosing Cranberry was because of its access to the airport for our customers. And its highway access makes it easy for our employees.”
This past May, the company received its ISO certifications which are critical for FDA regulated medical device makers. “As we grow - and in a three to five year time frame we’re targeting 40 to 60 people to be at this location - this facility offers just the right match for what we were interested in between front office, manufacturing, and warehousing space,” he explained. “And coming into Cranberry, you feel good about the area; it’s fresh, it’s growing. So the combination of all those things makes Cranberry a great place to be.”