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Manufacturers bringing jobs back to Central Mass.

September 4, 2017
Courtesy MTD Micro Molding
Courtesy MTD Micro Molding
MTD will nearly double its production space later this year, the result of reaping the rewards of a specialized niche in medical device manufacturing.

After operating a production plant in China for five years, Billerica-based medical device manufacturer Insulet decided its next expansion should be closer to a home – a lot closer.

Insulet is building a $100-million facility in Nagog Park in Acton, after purchasing a vacant office building for $9.25 million earlier this year and now expanding the building to over 300,000 square feet. The neary 26-acre site will allow for future expansion.

The facility - expected to produce hundreds of jobs but rely heavily on automation – will be able to produce up to 70 percent more devices with up to 90 percent fewer employees compared to all four of the company's current manufacturing lines in China.

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"Of course, we started looking in the U.S.," said Chuck Alpuche, executive vice president of global manufacturing and supply chain operations for Insulet. "I'm a big proponent of being as close as you can to the customer."

Insulet is not alone in choosing to manufacture goods in the U.S., eschewing the decades-long trend of pushing production to countries with low labor costs. The quality of the workforce, the proximity to the customer and the avoidance of foreign governments makes American production attractive.

American companies are even bringing their jobs back from abroad, according to the national Reshoring Initiative, an organization promoting manufacturing jobs in America. About 338,000 jobs have been brought to the country from offshore since 2010, according to the organization's website.

Delivering quality goods

Dunn and Co., a Clinton-based commercial printer specializing in book repair and calendars, reshored 12 production jobs to the U.S. in 2014.

Challenges arise when the company realizes it ordered too few or too many items to be made. Now with manufacturing being done in Clinton, it's much easier to change gears immediately, said co-founder David Dunn.

It is, however, still more expensive for the company to manufacture here, but it takes far fewer employees. Overseas, governments offer large subsidies for businesses to put people to work, but the product will almost certainly suffer in quality, Dunn said.

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"By the way, it's not as good [overseas]," Dunn said. "But, do you want good or cheap?"

Greater control over the product

Insulet was previously operating a small manufacturing facility in Bedford, but when the business was growing and needed more space, it looked to China, said Alpuche.

But, for the last few years, operating costs in China have been increasing, he said.

Alpuche and a team led by CEO Pat Sullivan, who was brought on three years ago, decided the company needed another operation, which turned into the $100-million Acton expansion.

Manufacturing the product by hand and then shipping it overseas brought with it an immense risk, especially for a device that people depend on to live a normal life. With the move brings control of the product and redundancy to minimize loss, Alpuche said.

New types of manufacturing jobs

The majority of high-paying manufacturing jobs are no longer in dusty factories with heavy machinery. Now, they're in the advanced manufacturing industries, said State Rep. Jeff Roy (D-Franklin), chairman of the state manufacturing caucus.

Manufacturing – as did most industries – took a huge hit in 2008 as the economy crashed, losing about 2 million jobs nationally. Since 2010, however, nearly 1 million manufacturing jobs have been added in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Worcester area has added manufacturing jobs in five straight years dating back to January 2013, an increase of more than 1,000 jobs, according to the bureau.

Although manufacturers agree there still aren't enough people to fill the jobs, successful manufacturers are now looking to take back some control over their product, Roy said.

"We're finding that it's far more impactful to drive 45 minutes to a factory [than fly to China] to make changes rapidly," Roy said.

Expanding in America

MTD Micro Molding has operated its Charlton facility since 1998 when it began making miniature devices for a variety of clients. But as the new company began to spread its wings, mold-building shops, previously a staple of the economy in Central Massachusetts began to go under.

"We saw that staying the course was not really an option," MTD President Dennis Tully said.

After discovering a niche of providing micro and medical devices, MTD is planning a 12,000-square-foot expansion of its 16,000-square-foot facility, staying in its small hometown of Charlton.

Because of the precision and meticulous attention to detail needed for MTD's products, Tully has not even entertained the idea of offshoring the company's operations, losing control of the intricacies involved with making tiny devices.

It's also because of that precision and meticulous attention MTD is constantly looking for more employees.

Courtesy MTD Micro Molding
MTD Micro Molding in Charlton has always manufactured in New England, only trusting its complex production to local and highly trained workers.