A Fitchburg-based company that’s attempting to make healthcare cheaper for the rest of us is rapidly growing.

That growth has resulted in supply-chain management company Terso Solutions being one of the contenders for the Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year award, which will be announced on Feb. 21.

Founded 12 years ago, the company with headquarters at 5540 Research Park Drive, has grown in the last three years as the healthcare and life sciences industries have adapted to use their services, CEO Joe Pleshek told the Star. That growth included adding a 30,000-square-foot manufacturing plant on Commerce Park Drive a year ago.

Pleshek said it’s an honor to be listed with other Wisconsin companies throughout the state who are committed to manufacturing.

“It’s also a celebration of all of the hard work that our teams have done over the years,” he said.

Terso Solutions designs and manufactures cabinets, refrigerators, freezers, mobile units and hand-held devices that keep track of supply inventory, Pleshek said.

Products used by hospitals, clinics and companies in the life sciences industry are often expensive, have expiration dates or lead to dangerous conditions for patients if a necessary, life-saving product is out of stock at the facility, Pleshek said.

“You’re dealing with patient safety,” he said. “You cannot be ‘out-of-stock’ of a product.”

On the flip side, Pleshek added, have too much inventory can lead to higher costs, which is then passed on to patients.

Terso Solutions’ products use radio frequency identification technology (RFID) – like what automated library book sorters use – to sense when inventory is being added or taken out of the cabinets.

Pleshek said the healthcare and life sciences industries have experienced pressure to automate as a way to make their services more cost-efficient.

“In the last two years, the market in healthcare is really waking up to the fact that inventory is a big deal,” he said. “Hospitals are getting paid less, (and) they’re putting pressure on medical device companies to lessen their prices. That pressure to become more efficient, which is a good thing for us as consumers of healthcare, is putting pressure on companies and healthcare providers to do something about it.”

The company was started by Bill Linton, CEO of Promega Corporation, a biotechnology company also based in Fitchburg a few tenths of a mile away, as he saw a need to reduce costs with their company’s products that often have expiration dates, Pleshek said.

“Promega, making high-value products back in the early 90s, had a need to more accurately track when a customer was purchasing their products,” he said.

While Terso Solutions is its own company, it’s wholly a subsidiary of Promega, which developed the RFID technology in 2005.

During its first few years of operation, Pleshek said Terso Solutions was in “survival mode,” but it since has seen the scale of projects increasing with shorter lead times, and an increase in staffing.

Prior to the completion of its manufacturing facility on Commerce Park Drive on Fitchburg’s west side, its units were manufactured in the basement of its headquarters on Research Park Drive.

That worked when Terso Solutions was fulfilling projects orders of 20 units, Pleshek said, but made for cramped quarters and unsafe working conditions for employees when clients began requesting orders of close to 1,000 units.

“We put a lot of effort and money into ensuring we had a really safe work environment, and also a comfortable and innovative work environment where people wanted to come into work,” he said. “We really looked at studying their movements within the building.

“Downstairs, we were jockeying around large pieces of equipment in very tight corridors,” Pleshek added. “We just had the risk of something falling on somebody, tripping opportunities, so the ergonomics around workflow has been eliminated in the new building.”

Those factors of being a growing company that has expanded its work force and facilities, as well as making employee safety a priority and producing a quality product, is why Pleshek said the company became one of the contenders for the Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year award.

Terso was alerted to the award by Michael Zimmerman, City of Fitchburg economic development director. Following Zimmerman’s recommendation, Terso staff completed the self-nomination process.

A few dozen other Wisconsin-based companies who are up for the award, including Octopi Brewing of Waunakee, Convenience Electronics, Inc. of McFarland and Freedom Graphic Systems, Inc. of Milton, according to the award website.

Should Terso Solutions win, Pleshek said, it would be a recognition of its employees’ innovative spirit and the “cherry on top” of a “remarkable few years” for the company.

“We’re proud to be a part of the state of Wisconsin,” he said. “I think sometimes when you hear ‘manufacturing,’ you don’t right away think of innovation, but I believe there’s a ton of innovation that’s happening in manufacturing. And we want to celebrate that, along with the rest of the nominees.”

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.