In 1988, Baxter's Cartago, Costa Rica manufacturing facility shipped its first production lot thanks to the help of 40 employees who took orders, managed inventory by hand in a computer-less setting and manually assembled products for the company's Medical Products business.
Today, the 152,000 square-foot Cartago plant employs more than 1,100 people, producing a range of products including IV administration sets, and supplying finished goods used in 60 countries globally, as well as component parts used by other Baxter manufacturing facilities located in 10 countries.
"The Cartago plant opened 25 years ago as the first medical device company in Costa Rica," says plant manager Alvaro Conejo, who has been with the facility since it opened. "Since then, the company has become known for its stability, operational excellence and continuous innovation in serving patients globally."
Conejo notes that as the products manufactured at the facility have grown more complex over the years, the facility has made continuous improvements in process and technology. It started with a subassembly process, but integrated other state-of-the-art processes through the years, including manual assembly, extrusion, injection molding, automation and sterilization.
"It evolved from a manual assembly process to a combination of manual and automated operations, which are constantly updated to bring the customer the best options in terms of cost and quality," he says.
An industry role model, the facility was the first in Central America to receive both ISO 9002 and ISO 14001 certification and achieved the distinction of being the first Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001 certified company in the region. In 2008, Baxter's Cartago facility became the first outside North America to be awarded the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence. It was honored for its achievements in driving higher quality and improvements in productivity, manufacturing cycle time and customer lead-time. The facility has also consistently received the Preventico Global Award, granted every two years by the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, which recognizes the development, implementation, maintenance and improvements made in occupational health and safety management systems. The facility has received the award each time it's been granted since its inception in Costa Rica in 1999.
All of these successes have allowed the company to continue to expand its facilities throughout the country, and today Baxter now manages some financial activities for the company's operations in the United States and Puerto Rico from a service center located in Heredia, Costa Rica.
The Cartago plant is also recognized as a great place for employees to grow and learn, Conejo says. To help employees realize their full potential, the company offers a wide range of training and development opportunities as well as comprehensive compensation and benefits.
"I'm grateful for the benefits and development opportunities I've received over the years," says Sonia Torres, complaint specialist, who has worked at the Cartago facility its entire 25 years in operation, starting right out of high school. "My job has allowed me to travel, as well as to get better training and acquire experience in different processes, which I then share with other colleagues."
She also appreciates the company's commitment to its patients.
"I really like the work I do, and especially appreciate that Baxter is a company that makes products that save and improve lives," says Torres. "Our employees are conscious of the importance of the quality of the products we make."
Over the past 25 years, Baxter Cartago has also been committed to making a positive environmental and philanthropic impact on the community. In 2007, the facility became the first manufacturing operations within Baxter to be recognized as a "carbon-neutral" facility through the Chicago Climate Exchange, offsetting 100 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions. The site is also one of Baxter's leaders in its efforts to reduce plastic scrap, which represents one of the company's largest waste streams. Through enhanced controls in the manufacturing process, the site reduced plastic scrap waste by 17 percent per unit of production in 2012 compared to the prior year, equivalent to 134 metric tons.
The facility and its employees have also provided funds and volunteered at a number of local non-profits, including the Cartago School of the Deaf, the City of Children and the Cartago Home for the Elderly, "Manos de Jesus." Several organizations in Costa Rica, including Cedes Don Bosco—a non-governmental organization dedicated to provide technical education to destitute children—have also received financial support through the Baxter International Foundation, the company's philanthropic arm. In recognition of the ongoing positive impact Baxter has made in the community, two years ago the Cartago facility also received the AmCham Corporate Social Responsibility Award.
"As a leading employer in Cartago, Baxter is a true partner in improving the local economy and providing ongoing support to critical community needs," says Rolando Rodriguez, Mayor of Cartago. "We celebrate the facility's 25th anniversary and look forward to many more years of working together to improve our community."