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Need for speed built new Parker Hannifin polymer facility in Ravenna

10/3/2014

Tucked inside the just-dedicated Polymer Innovation Center at Parker Hannifin’s Parflex Division headquarters in Ravenna is a “clean room.”

You rightly might wonder why Parflex, a company known globally for its hoses and varieties of polymer tubing, feels the need to have a clean room.

Because it’s not just clean — it’s nearly spotless. And necessarily so.

Items made and tested in the center’s environmentally controlled, glass-enclosed room are intended for use on or inside the human body.

“This is where you will do assembly, cleaning, packaging of medical devices,” said William Fisher, product engineering manager. “It has very sophisticated air filtration, environmental control.”

The technology limits the amount of tiny particles in the room’s air to no more than 10,000 per cubic foot. (Take a deep breath. By comparison, a typical office has 500,000 or more particles per cubic foot.) And yes, people inside need to wear special clothing.

Prototypes of such things as catheters will be built inside in collaboration with the Cleveland Clinic, one of the partners in the new research and development facility. One prototype would allow doctors to insert a tiny camera and special polymer tubing through a leg to look at the inside of a patient’s beating heart, eliminating the need for dyes and the discomfort of entering through the neck.

“It is an ongoing project with the Cleveland Clinic,” said Mark Gagnon, Parflex general manager.

Parker Hannifin Corp. showed off the Polymer Innovation Center on Thursday with a ribbon-cutting and tours. The 24,000-square-foot facility is carved out of space from the adjacent Parflex factory and headquarters off Loomis Parkway. It is officially named the Donald E. Washkewicz Polymer Center, after Parker’s chairman and chief executive officer who was the Ravenna plant’s general manager when it opened in the 1970s.

The center’s significance revolves around much more than the clean room, Fisher and other executives said. They call it one of the world’s most advanced prototype laboratories.

“This is a very rapid prototyping center,” Fisher said. “All of the equipment is mobile. You move it around, you set it up, you link it together.”

Not only is the facility designed to invent materials, but also to invent processes, he said.

“The purpose of this facility is to experiment quickly and generate speed into prototypes. That’s our goal of this, to be able to develop things, solve problems, compound our materials and translate those into products quickly,” Fisher said.

Engineers and scientists can build small ingots out of polymer materials that are compounded right there to do properties testing, Fisher said. And then prototype products can be fashioned from the materials and tested as well. Successful prototypes can then be incorporated into normal manufacturing processes at Parker Hannifin or other customer facilities.

What took four to five months to accomplish can now be done in days or weeks, said Gagnon, the general manager.

Besides the life sciences, Parflex is also developing products for the oil and gas industry including offshore drilling, alternative fuel vehicles and more, he said.

The center got its start with $2.3 million from Ohio’s Third Frontier funding program. Parker invested $15 million. The Cleveland Clinic and University of Akron are also partners.

Construction started in 2012, with the facility put into limited use a year ago. The center consolidates operations from other Parker facilities.

“We’re still ramping up,” Gagnon said. It may take another two years to get the R&D site up to full use and with an estimated 34 employees.

“This will be another chapter in Parflex technology,” Washkewicz said during the dedication ceremony. “The facility is absolutely beautiful.”

Dr. Frank Papay of the Cleveland Clinic told the dedication audience that the kind of collaborations taking place at the Polymer Research Center have enabled advances not thought possible a decade ago.

“I see a lot of potential here,” he said.

Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected]

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