For Epimed, the manufacturing of high-tech medical devices is all about detail and precision. Just like the physicians who use the company's products, its employees must have a keen eye for detail and a steady hand.
Located at 141 Sal Landrio Drive in Gloversville, Epimed is known around the globe for designing and distributing solutions for experts in pain management, regional anesthesia and radio-frequency treatment for interventional pain.
"Designed by experts for experts," says a banner across the top of the company's website, www.epimedpain.com.
Bruce Whitcavitch, vice president of manufacturing and operations at Epimed, is pictured near a production room at the Gloversville facility. The company manufacturers catheters that are sold to physicians worldwide.
Epimed employee Lori Martin works on molding needle hubs at Epimed in Gloversville this month. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
In a city once known specifically for its leather production, Epimed is an onshore producer lending itself to the Capital Region's Tech Valley tagline and redefining local manufacturing.
"It would be hard to say anything here isn't necessarily high-tech," said Epimed's vice president of manufacturing and operations, Bruce Whitcavitch.
The devices are so refined, some of them take about seven machines and several people to produce. They all are put through rigorous scientific quality-control testing, such as making sure a point on a needle is perfect and ensuring products are sterile. Even the packaging is highly technical.
Epimed is known for creating devices for interventional pain management specialists - people who help relieve painful conditions for patients who suffer from chronic or acute back pain, sciatic pain, migraine headaches or pain during childbirth, to name a few examples.
The company manufactures about 400 different products - accounting for varied sizes and shapes of needles, for example - within about seven different product families.
The development, design, manufacturing and distribution company has grown locally from 32 employees, when it had its 2001 groundbreaking for its current manufacturing facility, to about 75 local employees now.
Epimed also as a location in Farmers Branch, Texas, which has 18 employees, as well as an office in Budapest, Hungary.
"I think what has driven us to stay in Fulton County is the fact that we have a group of very qualified individuals well implanted here. It would be very hard to change that," Whitcavitch said. "What we do here isn't something you can learn out of a textbook."
Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce President Mark Kilmer said he hopes to raise awareness of manufacturers putting the two counties on the map.
"Manufacturers don't have billboards out there," Kilmer said. "The product line is made here, but there's not an awareness that's advertised. We have a lot of international companies in our region. We have a lot of manufacturers here. They're the bright stars of the community. Epimed, of course, with their highly technical product, is the perfect example of that. This is a product that's very specialized and requires a high degree of technicality in manufacturing."
Whitcavitch agreed, adding "I also feel a lot of people don't know about the opportunities that exist in this county. I can't speak for anybody else, but I have people come up to me all the time and say, 'I never knew you guys were here!' That's surprising, but it's the reality of it."
Kilmer said part of the chamber's mission is to "intensify the sense of pride we have in this community, to show that you don't have to go elsewhere."
"There's a lot of talented people coming out of our schools, and we want them to know they can raise their families here, stay here and have a solid base for growth," Kilmer said.
The company requires its employees have a high school diploma, and there are positions for several levels of education after that.
"It's a wide spectrum of jobs," Whitcavitch said. "We have a long history of longevity here. The employee makes it through the regiment of the 90-day probationary period for manufacturing. There's a huge amount of training involved. We're a very progressive employer. The wages are competitive, and the benefit packages are very good."
Everyone has to be "reasonably technical," Whitcavitch said.
The company has product registrations in 42 countries and manufactures original equipment for components for other companies in several medical specialties.
The company's history dates back to the 1970s, when a company called Medical Evaluation Devices Instrument Corp. was involved in product development locally.
"It was kind of an idea factory - a patent factory," Whitcavitch said.
In the early 1990s, Dr. Gabor B. Racz and William Kline, a chemistry Ph.D., developed the first ideal epidural catheter and teamed up with Epimed, then a sales organization in Lubbock, Texas, operated by Racz's son, Gabor J. Racz. In 1997, the two companies became one.
Racz's other son, Sandor, also became involved with the company, and now the two sons are the president and executive vice president, working out of the Texas office. The company sales operation is led by Director of Sales and Marketing Steve Loretz, and products are sold to physicians, hospitals, distributors and to other companies.
"As pain medicine as a specialty advanced, we were working and collaborating with doctors to take products and make them better. We grew and have had, since the early 2000s, a profound effort in development of international business. We are distributing Epimed products into the Far East, the Middle East, Latin America and Australia. We've always had extensive relationships with international physicians. We have a large list of luminary doctors who run fellowship programs in their respective countries," Whitcavitch said.
The company also started manufacturing training products for physicians.
"There are a lot of things in the development pipeline right now. If we're able to cultivate them, we will increase our presence," he said.
For instance, the company is looking to enter the market for tools used in cryosurgery, the freezing of nerves, Whitcavitch said.
One of Epimed's core products is the spring-wound catheter. Whitcavitch explained the spring-wound catheter is a conduit the physician uses to inject medications at specific nerve roots.
"The catheter is placed through an epidural needle into the epidural space, which is the space between the spinal cord and the inside of the spinal column ... then the physician will put this needle in there," Whitcavitch said, pointing to the catheter, "and pull the stylette out."
The stylette is a fine wire that runs through the catheter when it is placed into the epidural space.
"It has a ball welded on the end of it, and it has spreads in the spring that allow for the lateral injections of medications," Whitcavitch said, pointing to the end of the needle.
Epimed's spring-and-steel construction of the catheter system makes it unique and easier for pain-management specialists to use, he said.
"Traditionally, epidural catheters for labor and delivery aren't made of steel. This is of steel construction, and it allows the physicians to direct the catheter up the epidural space to the site of the nerve root that's causing the problem," Whitcavitch said.
Since it's steel, it's visible on a moving X-ray, which means the physician can see it on the screen and direct it to a specific nerve root.
Another star of the Epimed line is a connector that attaches to the catheter after the needle is removed- a product that earned design awards.
"This attaches to the catheter and allows the physician to make injections of medications," Whitcavitch said.
The company manufactures a line of needles that are very "procedure-specific," Whitcavitch said, noting doctors use different devices to access different parts of the body.
"The whole idea [behind] everything we do is to take products and improve upon the tools the physicians have to work with and make them better and safer - atraumatic to neural tissue and blood vessels. Our concept is to take what's good and make it better, make it safer," Whitcavitch said. "That's our product-line mindset."