Above In Medical Manufacturing
TX-based Medical Plastics Laboratory makes no bones about
its special capabilities.
The accuracy of
Medical Plastics Laboratory Inc.'s products can often mean
the difference between life and death.
Plastics Laboratory Inc. specializes in
manufacturing anatomically correct skeletorns and
mannequins for use in medical and trauma
simulator/interactive "manikins" (mannequins), skeletons and
wound modules it manufactures are used by medical schools,
EMS departments and nursing schools and the like for
training and education.
Kenneth Bullington, Information Systems Manager, "We also
have doctors and research people coming to us regularly to
design products for actual procedures," he says.
"We actually beta
test all our products in the field as much as possible
before introducing it to the general public," Bullington
says. "Our interactive manikins are portable and can be set
up anywhere. They can be used in environments where the
trauma team can actually 'work on a patient.' A computer
program sets up the basic scenario and will have the
'patient' react to the drugs pushed."
"Even with the
different wound modules &emdash; burns, stabs, bullets
&emdash; it gives them (medical trainees) experience so when
they have 'real' patients, they'll know what to do," he
Plastics Laboratory Inc. was formed in 1949 by
three doctors who needed a solution to the closed
natural bone market. The three &emdash; O.W.
Lowrey, MD, Thomas R. Williams, DDS and E.E.
Lowrey, MD &emdash; were successful in using
plastic molding to capture the quality of a natural
skeleton through step-by-step casting of the
natural bones. The company incorporated in 1951 and
Price Neeley, a local businessman, joined the
company in 1952 as general manager.
since become one of the first companies to mold
plastic reproductions not only from actual bone,
but also organs. It was the fist manufacturer to
produce an anatomically-correct reproduction of an
expertly dissected human body in plastic and has
since expanded its line to include 3-D models for
all facets of anatomical study.
such as Choking Charlie (Heimlich Maneuver), CPR
Kelly and CPR Max (for CPR and first aid training),
MegaCode and BabyCode (life support trainers) and
Mr. Hurt Head (cranial trauma management) are just
some of the products manufactured by
MPL introduced the Multi-Sounds Trainer (heart and
lung sounds) and the Arrhythmia Scenario Trainer
(arrhythmia recognition and scenario training) to
its manikins. One year later, Bowel Sounds Trainer
was added to the line.
the company combined its two divisions of
anatomically correct 3-D training torsos &emdash;
Spar Pro Inc. and Target Pro Inc. &emdash; into
ProLine Training Inc. Adding to the product line is
the Power Training Machine for hands-on training
and measuring skills in law enforcement, prisons,
military and sports.
the company continues to expand under the direction
of President and CEO David Broussard, who took over
the position from Charles Wise in 1997. Drs. E.E.
Lowrey and Williams, Wise, Neeley's son, Bruce, and
Sara Lowrey Mackie, the daughter of the late Dr.
O.W. Lowrey, continue to serve on the board of
alliance with the European manufacturer Laerdal
Medical Corp. in the fall of 1998 has added to the
company's growth by further enhancing its
distribution networks and technology
additional information on MPL, visit its Web site
There's a reason
MPL's products are so realistic. Not only does the company
employ an in-house research and development team with
trained medical artists, but the company casts its skeleton
molds from actual bones and uses live casts for all its
The department is
run under the direction of Danny Smith, vice president of
Research & Development. According to Smith, it typically
takes between one to four years develop and manufacture new
products for market.
"We will develop
products that the medical field needs for teaching. We
control all the casting from stage 1 though production; if
we can't do a live cast, then we'll sculpt it. If it's an
articulating product, we may have to draw it to scale in CAD
to see where leverage points will be, for example," Smith
"This is an
artistic process," Smith adds. "It must be aesthetically
pleasing. Realism is extremely important; it helps us stay
ahead of the competition."
important," adds Bullington. "The weight of the object, its
densities &emdash; we even mix our own colors to try to keep
everything looking real. Our livers and pancreases have to
be the correct color. Skin tones on the manikins are also
rigid and soft polyurethanes, urethane elastomers, epoxies,
polyetheylene and phenolics are among the plastics used to
manufacture the bones, muscles, organs, ligaments and
manikins manufactured by MPL.
rotational molders to form the manikin components. "It gives
us the versatility to make a product that is 'touchy-feely'
right. Sometimes you don't have that versatility with
injection molding that you have with rotational molding,"
The company has
five rotational molders, including an FSP three-arm RotoFlow
as well as other older models of molders. According to
Bullington, the molders are in use 24 hours a day during the
Once products are
rotationally molded, they are brought to the eight-man vinyl
area for finishing. As part of the finishing, employees will
flash/grind the edges off the forms, add weight or foam, and
assemble the products. Manikins can be ordered in specific
weights, with 100, 150, 175, 200 and 225 pounds the most
common. Additional weights are available through special
In order to
maintain quality control, the company tries to have each
employee work on the product from start to finish. "We
started implementing a program where an individual employee
would have the responsibility for building of the complete
product," says Bill Sweitzer, vinyl area supervisor. "The
only time this doesn't happen is if we're gearing up for a
big production run. Then we'll do individual assemblies."
It is common to
have 15 to 20 models being assembled in the area at the same
time, he adds. There are no minimum or maximum quantities
Bones and Muscles
and tendons are made from a pre-colorized polyester mixture,
poured into molds then dried in ovens. "It's a very
straightforward process," Bullington says, but one that
takes a lot of hand work to complete.
For example, the
arteries, hearts and other organs must be hand trimmed after
coming out of the molds. In another example, in order to
achieve realistic-looking muscles, employees dip strands of
fiberglass into a mixture then hand apply onto the plastic
muscle to form muscle strands. The attention to detail
continues in the finishing area, where not only is the
lettering hand painted onto the skeleton parts, but open
wounds, such as on Mr. Hurt Head and Lawnmower Foot, are
also hand painted by employees.
"This is very
precise, detailed work," Bullington says. For that reason,
the company employs approximately 100 people in the
manufacturing department alone, working a modified three
shift/four-day work week.
manufacturing is the design and building of molds. "In the
case of bones, we'll start with a real bone and use it to
make the silicon mold and prototype," explains James Reed,
mold designer. "We'll use a rigid urethane in casting the
prototypes so there's no shrinkage." The company maintains
an inventory of more than 100 molds, including bones, teeth,
tissue and organs.
The "soft" tissues
are cast from a polyester material. Bones are cast from
Stypol (aka bone plastic), an unsaturated polyester monomer.
Once cast, the bones and organs are hand-assembled into
skeletons. According to Bullington, depending on the
complexity of the skeleton, it can take anywhere from a few
hours to several days to assemble.
enough that you don't have to just order off the product
line. A good portion of what we do is unique &emdash; a
one-of-a-kind model," Bullington says.
Although the trend
is toward interactive mannequins, company President and CEO
David Broussard says that skeletons will continue to be a
"The next phase
will be to have a full simulation (interactive mannequin) in
mobile lab setting. This would be geared for the military
and other groups, which conduct their exercises out in the
field," Broussard says. "I can see having the 3-D
interactive products with more electronics so that students
will have instant feedback on their treatments. That's going
to keep us busy for the next few years."
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Plastics Machining & Fabricating
F: (847) 362-5028