UltraPure Systems Modular Division Reaches Out to Global Market

January 20, 2005
By Joanne C. Curcio
Caribbean Business

In a carefully orchestrated turn of events spanning a short period of time, UltraPure Systems Inc. has transformed itself from being a global company serving the local biopharmaceutical industry, into a remarkably successful local company with a global reach. In just five years, UltraPure has established itself locally as a top contender in the field of process skid, super skid, and module fabrication. Now the high-purity piping-system manufacturer has taken its show on the road by shipping its modular designs all over the world.

Founded in 1999, UltraPure ranks No. 356 on the 2004 Caribbean Business list of the Top 400 locally owned companies, based on its 2002 revenue of $14.1 million. Since that time, its revenue has continued to rise, ending 2004 with a total of $24 million in sales.

The company was established when Chicago Bridge & Iron (CBI) decided to open a Puerto Rico subsidiary that would specialize in high-purity process and utility piping systems for the island's burgeoning biopharmaceutical industry. The multinational firm tapped engineer César Roca as the new project's general manager and gave him the task of setting up the entire operation. The industry veteran, who is the company's current president & CEO, began the project from his home and assembled a core team that would help him launch the ambitious manufacturing project and open its main facility in Vega Baja. He first enlisted fellow engineer Lucas Ramírez, who is now UltraPure's vice president and a minority owner of the company.

The company quickly built a solid reputation within the biopharmaceutical industry for its in-depth expertise in the complexities involved in the design, fabrication, installation, inspection, and documentation of high-purity process systems. By mid-2001, UltraPure had grown from its original two employees to 125 and already had taken in more than $20 million in sales. In June of that year, CBI decided it wanted to pull out of the local market and offered Roca the opportunity to buy the company. Within a week, Roca and a group of local investors made the announcement UltraPure Systems was now a 100% locally owned and operated business.

A month after the sale, Roca announced the company would increase its scope of services and move toward becoming a manufacturing plant for custom-engineered process skids. "We realized there were no local companies that had been able to offer process skids made on the island, despite the fact there were so many pharmaceutical manufacturers in need of this service," he said. "We saw this as an opportunity to put UltraPure Systems on the global map as a manufacturer of top-quality process skids with a 'made in Puerto Rico' seal."

Since that time, UltraPure not only has met its goal of becoming the first local skids producer with modularization capabilities, but has grown to become the largest orbital welding specialty contractor in the Caribbean. Now, with 300 employees and facilities in Vega Baja and Juncos, the company is preparing to open its third fabrication shop in the vicinity of a port, which will specialize in the design and production of modular process systems solely for export purposes. Due to the location of the plant, the prefabricated systems can be shipped for rapid on-site assembly anywhere in the world without any over-the-road transport limitations in Puerto Rico. "The only limitations that could occur would be on the receiving end," said Roca, adding that this prefabrication process could expedite a product's speed to market by six months or more since the systems could be built simultaneously with the construction of a new facility. As soon as the shell of a facility is ready, the modular systems can be installed immediately rather than starting from scratch. The prefabricated modular systems will likely ship out to biopharmaceuticals markets in the U.S., as well as to international destinations such as Singapore and Ireland.

Locally, UltraPure Systems serves a vast number of pharmaceutical companies, such as Eli Lilly, Amgen, Abbott Laboratories, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Schering Plough, and Baxter Healthcare Corp.

Roca says the company's strategy, which has resulted in its swift growth and allowed it to overshadow competitors in the local market, is quite simple. "We bring the training to the local craftspeople. We don't bring in trained craftspeople from the outside," he explained. "This gives us a great advantage in terms of labor costs, and the savings can be passed on to our clients."

The cornerstone to the company's success, said Roca, not only has been its focus on creating a highly skilled workforce through training, but also its stringent commitment to safety and quality control. The company enjoys one of the best safety records in the industry. "We provide ongoing safety orientations, keep up with changes in federal and local laws, and stay on top of improvements in engineering controls and personal protective equipment," said Roca. "We also have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to safety issues."

Roca said the company is constantly raising its technology and quality standards and provides consistently high-level inspections and documentation as required by its clients and regulatory agencies.

Having already accomplished both its initial short- and long-term goals in its first five years, Roca said he believes it's time for UltraPure to set a new objective. "Now our focus is to become the premier global supplier of process-system skids and modules."