“Medical device manufacturing has a long history on the island, starting with Baxter in the 1950s. Today, 30 world-leading medical device companies are present in Puerto Rico generating 20,000 direct jobs across 70 manufacturing plants producing more than 2,500 different types of devices, including many critically important life-sustaining products such as glucose monitors, cardiac pacemakers and blood collection systems,” highlights Carlos Rivera Vélez, president of the Medical Devices Cluster and senior director of operations at Stryker.
Our island boasts many advantages such as an ideal geographic location to support domestic and global markets, a competitive tax structure and an experienced pool of skilled manufacturing associates who are well prepared to meet the ever-increasing regulatory requirements and master complex processes, science and engineering
As a result, the medical device industry makes up a significant, and growing, part of Puerto Rico’s economy, representing 5.4 percent of industrial output (2017). Moreover, the presence of so many manufacturers means that Puerto Rico plays a critical role in securing the health of patients in the US and the world. For instance, 90 percent of the world’s pacemakers are produced on the island.
As Rivera Vélez explains, medical device companies “chose to manufacture their products here as our island boasts many advantages such as an ideal geographic location to support domestic and global markets, a competitive tax structure and an experienced pool of skilled manufacturing associates who are well prepared to meet the ever-increasing regulatory requirements and master complex processes, science and engineering. Moreover, the government has been very flexible in the past in working with investors to create a win-win situation.”
For many medical device manufacturers, their Puerto Rican operations serve as a center of excellence within their global manufacturing network. CooperVision is a case in point. Their Puerto Rican facility in Juana Diaz is not only the largest in terms of volume within the group’s global footprint, producing millions of contact lenses per day, but it also houses the Americas Manufacturing Operations, which acts as a centralized, shared services organization for all the plants in the Americas region – including New York, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico. In addition, the site comprises an Innovation Center where a team of experts, including PhDs in chemistry, work on qualifying materials, process improvements and process development projects in collaboration with the R&D department in the UK. The resulting process innovations are then standardized across the globe. This center works closely with the Puerto Rico Development Company (PRIDCO).
As Rolando Torres, CooperVision’s executive vice president of global manufacturing, stresses, “the R&D program offered by PRIDCO is a unique incentives program model in the world that can represent a significant competitive advantage.” Finally, the facility has become a standard to other sites for environmental sustainability with award-winning programs to reduce waste, water and energy consumption. For instance, their team came up with a way to recycle plastic molds which are needed on a temporary basis in the manufacturing process and used to be discarded. The recycled material is then sold to other industries to produce different products.
Medtronic, the largest life science company in Puerto Rico, is perhaps the best example of Puerto Rico’s capabilities in medical device manufacturing. Medtronic’s four facilities not only produce legacy products, but the group continues to transfer the manufacturing of new products. “We are very active in introducing new products directly to Puerto Rico. We have a robust system for the introduction of new products, whose purpose is to align strategies between R&D and manufacturing so when a new product is ready to be launched, all the elements are in place to make it happen in the most efficient way possible,” explains Felix Negrón. However, he believes that “there should be more incentives for technology in order to promote tech transfer and have new products coming to Puerto Rico” as product lifecycles are a lot shorter than in the pharma industry due to high competition and faster product innovation.
For its part, Boston Scientific’s facility in Dorado is considered a center of excellence for the production of leads. It manufactures all the leads used in the company’s Cardiac Rhythm Management – pacemakers and defibrillators – and Neuromodulation products, therefore supporting a big part of the revenue stream within these businesses. Moreover, the site actively participates in the development of new products.
Finally, the facility of Edwards Life Sciences in Añasco, which produces all Swan-Ganz pulmonary artery catheters used in hospitals throughout the world, has made itself indispensable to the rest of the group by upgrading its technical and development capabilities. As Manuel Palma, plant general manager, explains “we started a machine design center and a polymers materials lab to serve all the business units within Edwards’ Global Supply Chain.”
All of these examples highlight the fact that Puerto Rico is not just seen as a place to manufacture devices, but also as a fruitful environment to develop innovative processes, equipment and best practices as well as co-develop products in collaboration with R&D. As president of the Medical Devices Cluster, Carlos Rivera Vélez wants to see more of these initiatives. “Our vision is to make Puerto Rico not only a manufacturing hub but an innovation hub as well,” he emphasizes.