Norman Noble Inc. might help permanently alter the way cardiac medicine is conducted, yet most people know nothing about the family-owned and -operated Highland Heights medical manufacturer. And that’s OK. It’s been that way for more than 60 years.
So don’t expect the company’s Norman UltraLight to lift its profile. A proprietary heat-free laser, the Norman UltraLight creates stents, devices that hold open an artery to allow free blood flow. Unlike the stents on the market today, which are mostly metallic and can never be removed from the body, the Norman UltraLight creates polymer stents which can be absorbed into the body when their usefulness has expired.
Currently, about 99 percent of stents remain in a patient forever, says Brian Hrouda, (pictured at left) director of sales and marketing for Norman Noble. Most of the time they are harmless. But in some people, they can cause irritation and medical complications or interfere with other medical procedures such as MRIs.
“Bioabsorbable polymers are the next generation of stents,” Hrouda says. “We say, ‘Nothing left behind.’ ”
The UltraLight was invented in 2009, and Norman Noble’s polymer stents are now nearing market readiness. They are currently going through regulatory processes and being tested in hospitals around Cleveland and in other medical centers, he says.
As a contract manufacturer of medical stents and implants, Noble Norman doesn’t have any product lines. Customers approach the company with medical innovations, and Norman Noble finds a way to manufacture and give life to a product.
Norman Noble creates products for some of the world’s largest health care companies, Hrouda says. “We’re not in the press releases,” he says. “A lot of people don’t know who we are.”
Since its beginnings, secrecy has surrounded the company.
Founder Norman Noble, father to current president, Larry Noble, established the company in 1946. At the time, Noble machined small and exact components exclusively for the aerospace industry, particularly gyroscopes used in missiles. Most of his work during his early days in business remains confidential.
About 15 years ago, when the medical stents industry began to grow, an opportunity arose to apply similar tight-tolerance measurement used in missile parts to the tiny medical implants. The company began creating manufacturing methods for the specialized stents, including early electrical discharge machining. As the process advanced, it moved to laser cutting.
The company uses exotic and rare materials including titanium, platinum and tungsten to provide the best fit for each application.
“Stents continue to be a core competency for our company,” Hrouda says. “We are one of the largest stent manufacturers in the world.”
The company’s business is now 98 percent medical and only 2 percent aerospace. There was more opportunity for growth in the medical industry, Hrouda says.
Norman Noble’s revenues have been steadily growing at about 27 percent year over year for the past several years, and the company continues to expand. Noble’s original garage is now the site of a 35,000-square-foot facility, and another manufacturing facility sits across the street. Norman Noble’s 120,000-
square-foot space was built about five years ago and is at capacity. “We have another 16 acres of land, and we are looking to build another facility,” Hrouda says.
Medical manufacturing in Cleveland continues to grow and expand around the city’s powerhouse medical institutions, including the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals.
Hrouda attests to the benefit of the company’s location — Cleveland has the medical infrastructure, university presence and labor pool to draw from for its 600 employees, he says.
“Our primary focus is on innovation, and innovation is coming out of these institutions all the time,” Hrouda says. “We are the manufacturer for many of the ideas that come out of the area.”
Recently, an orthopedic company approached Norman Noble about creating a new screw implant made of NiTinol, a metal that changes shape based on temperature. NiTinol screws are like a spring: They can bend and bend back without breaking.
“We designed a custom manufacturing process to machine the screws from NiTinol,” Hrouda says. “We believe we are the only company in the world to do this.”