Custom medical fabricators

Hospitals, clinics, doctor and dentist offices and many other medical facilities are filled with equipment made at MPE Inc., a Milwaukee-based company that builds specialized carts and frames for some of the biggest names in medical equipment.

MPE routinely builds specialized carts for medical OEMs such as General Electric, Siemens AG, Medtronic Inc. and Ethicon Inc. Its carts are designed to hold medical equipment ranging from kidney dialysis equipment to computers that monitor heart rate and blood pressure to ultrasound machines and scanners.

Because its carts are used for high tech medical equipment, MPE usually builds them in relatively low runs – ranging from five to a few hundred at a time. And almost each design is custom-built for a specific system.

“Ninety-five percent of our product is made for the medical market and most of that is custom made for a specific use,” said Gary Pfannerstill, vice president of manufacturing. “In terms of design, we’ll take a design from a customer. But when they’re looking for a concept we can start with an idea and take it through development and manufacturing. We like that the most because it captures all of the resources we can offer.

“We do also take product that the customer isn’t happy with and redesign it to take a lot of the cost out of it.”

Most of MPE’s sales are to the North American market, but it does export some of its carts to Israel, Japan and Germany. The company serves the Mexican market from a facility in Monterrey, Mexico that opened in 2002.

Much of MPE’s products are shipped overseas later once its OEM customers have finished installing their equipment into it.

MPE has 130 employees in Milwaukee, and another 50 in Mexico. Its Milwaukee facility is about 150,000 square feet, Pfannerstill said, where MPE built a 40,000-square-foot addition about two years ago.

The company, which has been in business for about 25 years, is owned by its president, Dennis Wenger, and three senior managers. In 2008, MPE posted about $40 million in sales. The company expects slightly lower to flat sales this year, due to pressures that its largest customers are feeling.

“There are a lot of freezes in budgets,” Pfannerstill said. “We’re down 15 to 20 percent right now, respective to where we were.”

In March, MPE laid off about 25 employees.

The slowdown is allowing MPE to re-examine the way it produces its components, focusing on how product flows inside its manufacturing facility. It recently completed a restructuring of its fabrication area, which has already saved the company time, money and made its operations more efficient.

“In welding it has had a huge impact on how we’ve done things,” Pfannerstill said. “We’ve developed a large parts cell where we do all of the big frame work.”

The restructuring has allowed MPE to also install a new ventilation system, which has improved interior air quality and workplace cleanliness. The changes have helped satisfy some customers in the medical market who are looking for more cleanliness in their suppliers, Pfannerstill said.

“Our customers are in medical, and they do environmental health and safety audits,” he said. “The audit is like we are making pacemakers.”

In the next several weeks, the company will complete a similar examination of its assembly area.

“The goal is to showcase the assembly area. We want there to be a wow factor where people will say, ‘This is really cool,'” Pfannerstill said. “By the end of June we want to have the lines mapped, the floors painted and taped up. We want people to see where the product is, how far along it is, with very defined areas.”

The improvements to fabrication and assembly will allow MPE to operate more efficiently once business picks back up, Pfannerstill said.

“We will not have to add for every person we cut,” he said. “The improvements in the way we do business will slow our hire rate versus what we released.”

MPE is also looking to expand its operations into non-medical lines, Pfannerstill said. The company has recently landed three accounts in the aerospace field, and is looking to expand its work in laser and cosmetic surgery-related products.

“It has to be a good fit (for us to take it on),” he said. “We’re trying to get customers on a grand scale rather than going door to door.”

MPE Inc.
10597 W. Glenbrook Ct., Milwaukee
Industry: Custom carts, consoles, tables and framework for portable medical products
Employees: 180

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