Archive for Thursday, September 27, 2001

Eudora manufacturer making worldwide M-Pact

September 27, 2001

Broken bones, eye surgery and bleeding sinuses may make some squeamish. For one Eudora manufacturer and distributor they mean business.

M-Pact Worldwide Inc., bases its business on making it easier for physicians and other medical professionals to do theirs. It supplies them with instruments ranging from pointed sponges used in eye surgery to splinting and casting materials for broken bones to nasal packings.

But patients won't find their products in the United States alone. In 1990, none of the company's sales were overseas. That number has now risen to 30 percent.

"That's how we've been able to grow our business," said Chief Operating Officer Barry Price. "In the U.S. marketplace there's a lot more competition. It's difficult to compete with 3M and Johnson & Johnson."

In August, the company sent four 18-wheeler-sized shipments overseas one each to France, Korea, Taiwan and China.

"We had a little celebration," Price said, adding that this year has been the company's best sales year ever. The celebration included a kickoff party and the Eudora High School band.

Despite worldwide connections, M-Pact is a small business employing 120 workers split between two buildings, one mainly an office and the other for manufacturing and distributing.

The lobby of the office is furnished with a living room-like sectional sofa and a mannequin sporting black shorts and a yellow polo shirt with the company logo.

"I went from a big company to a smaller one, which is a lot more fun," said Price, whose business background had him in another medical area: pharmaceuticals.

Now Price gets to see how products are used up close, like when he went to the Hunkeler Eye Center and saw laser surgery performed using the sponges M-Pact manufactures and distributes.

"One of our products we make is a large piece of sponge," Price said. "When they're doing hip replacement surgery and drill into the bone they have to sop up the blood. It's not a very pretty procedure."

Making and distributing the materials aren't as gory but require precision nonetheless. Products needing sterility, like the eye sponges, are made and packaged behind clear plastic material set up as walls in the 20,000 square foot main office building. Inside, employees work in surgical scrubs with their hands and heads covered. M-Pact makes 30 million eye sponges each year.

The boxed sterile products are then stored behind glass in locked cabinets. Across the street it gets a little messier.

In the operation's second building, boasting 40,000 square feet, workers scurry around on floors covered with a fine, white chalk. This isn't a place to wear dark clothing, Price said.

Cotton gauze spools through the contraption, which looks like a newspaper printing press, on a series of rollers. Seven-foot tall tubs feed plaster of Paris into the machine, which coats the rolling gauze but stops it from hardening entirely. When the physicians wet the material while applying the cast, the plaster will complete hardening. The whole process takes about 15 minutes.

Many of the gauze's small square openings are now filled with plaster, leaving the material reminiscent of delicate lacework. Lifts move the rolls of material onto shelves, in a part of the building that looks like a carpet outlet store.

The rolls are then sliced into different sizes for different purposes. Some of them will be grouped together and bound to make splints.

In another area, foot inserts usually worn before joint surgery, Price said wait to be cut from their mold. They're the color of gel toothpaste with the feel resembling a Nurf ball. Metal forms of the different pad shapes, looking suspiciously like cookie cutters, line the wall.

"They're like Dr. Scholl's, but they work," Price said.

The front part of the building is full of boxes waiting for shipment. Price points out a box of plaster for the craft market, called Mod Roc, headed for the United Kingdom, but chances are you could find it at the local hobby store, too.

"It's not medical, but since we make plaster, we do it," Price said.

Working in medical supplies requires consultation from physicians and other medical professionals, Price said.

The company began with medical professionals in mind. A Eudora chiropractor, Leo Lauber, started making a splinting system, later pooling his resources with a De Soto company that made saws to remove casts.

Despite the variety of products M-Pact manufacturers, a patient won't necessarily have M-Pact products throughout a bone-setting procedure. M-Pact's share of the market varies from product to product, Price said.

"I don't think the average person would know where they're made," Price said. "Our people know when they are in the hospital."

Despite a worldwide presence, M-Pact's location in Eudora suits the business, Price said. Sometimes drawing workers can be difficult, though.

"It's hard to get people for $10 or $11 and hour to come from Kansas City," Price said.

Yet the company not only draws workers from Eudora but also from Lawrence, Ottawa and other surrounding areas. The Midwest work ethic is a bonus as is the location, even if it's not a fancy address like New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.

"From a shipping point of view, we're in the center," Price said.

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