Marquette company innovating in orthopedics and biologics

Spinal implants are helping people to live with les pain / Brett Dickie

Marquette had already made an impression on us, from its friendly people to its art and culture and historic buildings.

It was this cutting edge medical outfit, though, that fused it all together, so to speak.

Pioneer Surgical was founded in 1992 in the garage of a local surgeon who came up with the idea for wire (or cord) to wrap around damaged spines and allow them to heal more quickly.

"I often joke and say it's like bailing wire for the spine", says Brian Motter, Vice-President of Operations.

The company has grown by leaps and bounds since that time.

"Today we're 240 employees in Marquette and 320 worldwide," says Motter.

The orthopedic and biologic products made at Pioneer Surgical are helping people to live better lives. We saw it firsthand when we met an employee that has the implants in his own body.

Martin Hillock suffered from pain from a slipped disk for years. Even working here all through the 90s, he was hesitant to have surgery.

"We started making a lot of these products. Of course, I was paying attention but it was the last thing I wanted to do," said Hillock. Finally a year ago, he took the plunge into surgery. Surgeons inserted a Pioneer plate and cage into his spine in order to fill the space created by the slipped disk and help his spine to function more normally again.

Now he runs the plant. The pain he once described as "the worst pain I've ever felt," is gone. He oversees the operations of cutting titanium and stainless steel to precision to make the implant. The cutters are bathed in oil to keep them cool while more than 100 tools can be automatically switched in a snap to fit the current part. With surgical implants, it has to be done right.

The parts are tested for precision using cameras that scan the part down to the size of a human hair. Then high-tech software is used to overlay that with a computer model to make sure there are no errors. If they find a mistake, they can take it back to a machinist for an adjustment. The parts are also hand-checked and visually inspected. Sometimes every single part gets at least a second look.

They say they have a responsibility to get it right.

"We go through a lot of hoops to make sure our products are not just good products," said David Artman. "They're products that everyone feels good and happy about passing on to the next person and ultimately on to surgery."

Product testing was evident almost everywhere, one of the many advantages said the company's V.P., to having the entire process under one roof. Another is cost reduction.

"If I have to buy all my product through seven steps, each of those people want to take a little profit out of the supply chain," Motter said. "We try to keep all of that supply chain inside. This makes us generally cheaper than our competitors."

Everyone we talked to seemed to agree they are glad that "one roof" that everything is under is here in Marquette.

"We have a good life here, it's a great place to grow up," said Hillock. Motter added, "This is a great place to live and it's a great place to raise a family. If we can create a bunch of jobs here and maintain the lifestyle we've got up here, we can keep it going for a long time."