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Computer Aided Medical Manufacturing


FeatureCAM, PartMaker and PowerMILL CAM systems are simplifying the manufacture of medical instruments, prosthetics and components.

By Delcam North America
Windsor, ON

Three different CAM systems are making a difference at three separate device makers. Sutter Instrument, Chas. A. Blatchford & Sons, and High Point Precision Products each have different CAM needs, and have found an appropriate solution. Here’s a look at each company.

Delcam’s FeatureCAM supports sophistication at Sutter Instrument

A combination of Delcam’s FeatureCAM feature-based CAM system and the integrated CAM software, Delcam for SolidWorks, helps the Sutter Instrument Company to manufacture some of the world’s most sophisticated research and inspection equipment. University laboratories all over the world use Sutter’s instruments to do research into illnesses including Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, cancer and infertility.

Sutter Instrument

The company had its origins in 1977 when Dale Flaming, a scientist working at the University of California, San Francisco, was having difficulty in producing micropipettes for his studies of retina cells in the eye. He developed the first electronically-controlled micropipette puller to help facilitate his research. Additional demand for the device from colleagues prompted the formation of Sutter Instrument Company.

Today, Sutter has grown to become a world-class manufacturer of biomedical and life science research instrumentation. Customization of the optical product line for unique applications has extended the company’s customer base beyond the biomedical industry into such diverse industries as aerospace, semiconductors, electronics, atmospheric research, astronomical imaging, fusion research and material analysis.

The company’s engineering and manufacturing facility occupies over 50,000 square feet and employs more than 70 staff; most of them have been with the company for more than a decade. The machine shop, which is staffed with 14 employees, is one of the finest precision-machining facilities in Northern California, employing state-of-the-art CNC machining and turning centers for volume production of precision mechanical components.

Fred Siedenburg, a vice-president at Sutter, oversees the research and development activities in the machine shop together with Ron Davenport, Research and Development Machinist, who has more than 30 years of experience in precision manufacturing. Both of them have tried nearly every CADCAM software package on the market.  For more than a decade, they have been committed to Delcam software. Today, Sutter Instruments owns five seats of Delcam for SolidWorks and three of FeatureCAM.

“When we first got our FeatureCAM software, we picked up the basics almost immediately,” remembered Mr. Davenport.  "Over time, we have learned the more intricate features. We do call Delcam from time to time with questions and the technical support team is outstanding.” In fact, he admits that, when they were first evaluating FeatureCAM, it was the technical support they received that convinced them to switch to Delcam.

More recently, Sutter has added Delcam for SolidWorks. “Delcam for SolidWorks is about twice as fast as anything else on the market,” claimed Davenport. “It became so easy to machine parts when Delcam for Solid Works came out—it was literally inside the SolidWorks program that we use for design. We can get a prototype into the hands of our decision makers very quickly. In manufacturing, we are able to fine-tune the design very quickly and easily, cutting production times.”

PowerMILL CAM used for prosthetics manufacture

Delcam’s PowerMILL CAM software for high-speed and five-axis machining is used by Chas. A. Blatchford & Sons Ltd to manufacture the company’s award-winning range of lower-limb prosthetics. The Delcam software is an important part of Blatchford’s drive to develop the highest quality products, while at the same time increasing volumes to meet the growing need for prosthetics.

The Blatchford name has been associated with providing excellent rehabilitation products and services for more than 120 years, during which time the company has become recognized as a global supplier of lower-limb prosthetics and orthotics. In the UK, the company has been given more than 30% of all NHS contracts to supply artificial limbs to British amputees, while its technical expertise has been recognized with four Queen’s Awards for Innovation. In addition, Blatchford provides the prosthetics service to injured soldiers for the Ministry of Defence at the Headley Court Rehabilitation Centre.

For the last five years, the company has been pursuing a strategy of re-inventing itself in order to meet the new challenges of the changing demands of markets and patients. This program has included the introduction of a growing number of five-axis Matsuura machine tools, all of which are programmed with two seats of PowerMILL. The combination of machines and software is used both for the direct machining of metal components and for the production of tooling for parts molded from carbon fiber-reinforced plastics and silicone.
 Blatchford & Sons Ltd.
The new strategy also involved the recruitment of more staff with an engineering background, rather than experience in medical device manufacture, including Senior Manufacturing Engineer, Ian Keeley. Mr. Keeley began his career with a five-year apprenticeship in toolmaking, before moving into aerospace manufacturing with companies including Mettis and Columbia Precision. He started using PowerMILL in 1999 and quickly saw the benefits of the Delcam software. “With one project, we were able to reduce the machining time from five hours to less than two hours,” he remembered. His machining expertise led to his recruitment by Blatchford around four years ago, at a time when the company was targeting a significant increase in its volumes of parts.

Many of the materials used at Blatchford are the aerospace grades of aluminum and titanium that Keeley was familiar with from his earlier career. Similarly, the key benefit of moving to the five-axis equipment remained the ability to machine all of the critical features of a part in one operation, with only a second clean-up operation needed to complete the majority of components.

One significant difference is the amount of different tooling needed for many of the parts, with Blatchford’s unique designs requiring up to 100 tools, including extensive use of non-standard items. PowerMILL’s tooling database is essential in managing this complexity. “We have established databases for each machine, each containing around 240 tools with the associated feed and speeds,” Keeley explained. “We can drag and drop tools between the machines, and quickly add details for any new tools that might be needed. Using these databases saves a lot of programming time when we are producing initial samples, plus it is easy to edit the toolpaths to optimize feeds and speeds if we move to a longer run. Some projects can run for up to ten years so this optimization makes a significant contribution to our productivity.”

The overall versatility of the software was the other key benefit highlighted by Keeley. “You can get PowerMILL to do pretty much anything,” he commented. “I’ve used other CAM systems but they don’t give you the flexibility of PowerMILL. It gives more efficient machining with a better surface finish. It is also extremely reliable – what you see on the computer is what happens on the machine.”

Delcam’s PartMaker CAM supports growth for medical device manufacturer

A combination of unique knowledge, old-fashioned customer service and Delcam’s PartMaker CAM software has helped Marc Stipo, President of High Point Precision Products, to grow his business from the family basement in Northern New Jersey into a fifteen-man company serving the medical device market in Sussex, NJ. Programming all of its machines with PartMaker keeps the company competitive and provides its customers with fast turnaround and the shortest possible lead times.

Stipo admits that his company isn’t the biggest player in medical device manufacturing but claims that its cutting-edge machine-tool and CADCAM technology provides unique, cost-effective manufacturing solutions. To this end, the company employs seven multi-axis CNC Swiss-type lathes including a variety of Citizen L, K and M series models, a Star SA and two Haas vertical machining centers.

The Swiss machines typically cost between $250,000 and $300,000 each. Therefore, it is paramount that they are kept up and running as much as possible, no matter what the lot size might be.

According to Stipo, the best way to achieve this is to make very technically demanding, complex parts, which is exactly where PartMaker software provides real help. “In today’s medical device industry, engineers are using CAD to the fullest of its capabilities, which means part geometries are getting more complicated,” explained Stipo. “As a result, there have been countless jobs we just wouldn’t have been able to produce without using PartMaker.”

The software allows the company to program faster and in a more automated fashion, which leads to fewer errors on the shop floor. Getting programming of a part right the first time, (especially for complex Swiss machines), leads to faster set-up times for High Point and shorter lead times for its customers.

High Point Precision Products

Although High Point is a rather small shop, it is able to compete with much larger outfits because of the skill of its staff and the sophistication of its technology. High Point keeps a step ahead by focusing the unique talents of its small group on the customers’ problems.  This allows Stipo and his team to come up with practical, cost-saving ideas.

Being smaller also enhances the need for diversification among his customer base.  Having a CAM system that allows for the quick programming and turn-around of parts allows High Point to satisfy a diverse customer base across a relatively small number of machines without running into capacity problems.

“PartMaker allows you to quickly see where you have excess spindle waiting time so we can make sure our part cycle times are optimized before sending a program to the machine,” said Stipo. “Having the ability to run ‘what-if’ scenarios off-line on PartMaker saves machine time and assures our customers that they are getting the best possible price for their products.”

Stipo finds that smaller medical-device manufacturers are receptive to the experience that his company has to offer. “To design a part on a computer, to have us make it and then to try it out back in the company’s R&D lab can be very time-consuming,” he explained. “When you are at the machine, making these changes can just be a couple of key strokes, or a quick edit in PartMaker. Working collaboratively with the customer can also make the machining easier and more efficient, so bringing costs down even further.” ME  


This article was first published as a digital exclusive feature for the 2014 edition of the Medical Manufacturing Yearbook.

Published Date : 3/26/2014

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