Sourcing Value in Metal Fabrication

June 1, 2003

5 Min Read
Sourcing Value in Metal Fabrication

Originally Published MPMN June 2003


Sourcing Value in Metal Fabrication

Precision cutters and one-stop shops answer OEM demands for convenience and cost-efficiency

Norbert Sparrow

Whether you are sourcing production equipment or seeking a supplier of metal fabrication services, you are looking for value. Cutting equipment that uses a jolt of electricity to quickly and cleanly produce burr-free cuts can help OEMs achieve high throughput and surprisingly precise results. Conventional machinery may require a secondary operation or a reduction in cycle time to produce similarly precise components. As for providers of contract services, they often compete for customers by touting their value-added capabilities and single-source status. In all cases, it's about delivering more bang for the buck. A small sampling of these companies committed to serving the medical device industry is profiled in this article.

Precision metal cutter minimizes secondary operations

Electrodes and two slides are at the heart of a precision metal-cutting machine developed by Jouhsen-Bundgens USA.

High-speed cutoff machines use electrodes to produce precise, burr-free metal parts at speeds up to 500 items per minute. To achieve similar results by conventional means, manufacturers must rely either on a secondary process to finish parts or settle for a reduction in throughput. Electro-Fission Cutoff machines from Jouhsen-Bundgens USA are routinely used to manufacture needles, catheter parts, insert pins, and related components.

The machines perform cutoffs by means of a set of electrodes and two slides. A stationary slide holds the material in place, while a charge from the electrodes is directed at the cutoff point. A second slide grabs the material and yanks it apart. The heating and separation of the material takes place in a matter of milliseconds, according to the firm.

The process enables burr-free cutoffs along the outer diameter while allowing the user to control the degree of tapering, or amount of reduction, at the end of the cutoff. Typical tolerances of ±0.0027 in. for lengths under 2 in. and down to 0.007 in. on longer parts can be achieved.

The ability to hold tight length tolerances without sacrificing throughput can be especially beneficial in tube-cutting operations. Manufacturers cutting tubing using conventional equipment typically must perform secondary honing operations. A bushing or knife-cut system generally crimps shut the tubing, which must then be reopened. The use of sawing or electrochemical methods, on the other hand, can greatly reduce throughput and may require the use of additional cutting machinery to finish the job.

Suitable for cutting most metallic materials, Electro-Fission Cutoff machines can be supplied with a linear or cam-driven feed. The machinery can be adapted to meet most customer requirements involving material types and shapes.

Value-added services

As in many other sectors, metal fabrication contractors are under pressure from OEMs to provide value-added services and to offer multiple capabilities. Many are rising to the challenge.

More than 100 alloys are processed by UTI Corp., which can produce tubing in diameters ranging from 0.003 to 0.625 in. The single-source supplier has the in-house resources to handle every aspect of stent development from design and prototyping to tubing production.

"Our clients are asking us to manage their most critical programs by supplying value-added components and assemblies," says Bill Gaffney, vice president of marketing and international sales for UTI Corp. "They are reducing their supplier bases, so companies with a wide range of capabilities and support services stand the best chance of increasing their market share," he says.

Through a series of acquisitions and expansions, UTI has positioned itself as a single-source provider of product design, development, prototyping, and production services. Earlier this year, the company added another arrow to its quiver by acquiring Venusa Ltd. A medical device manufacturer based in El Paso, TX, Venusa develops proprietary OEM products and produces private-label fluid disposables. It brings additional injection molding and assembly technologies to the UTI portfolio, according to the firm, along with a well-established presence in the parenteral and enteral, endoscopy, and minimally invasive therapeutic device markets.

UTI's production capabilities include precision metal tube drawing, CNC machining and grinding, fine-wire fabrication, injection and insert molding, finishing, and cleanroom production and assembly. The company also partners with a number of manufacturers in the stent technology field. UTI has the expertise and resources to handle every aspect of stent development from design assistance and prototyping to tubing production in any quantity. Its tube-drawing and fabrication equipment can process more than 100 alloys and achieves diameters ranging from 0.003 to 0.625 in. Deep-drawn tubular components are available in >50:1 length-to-diameter aspect ratios with tolerances down to ±0.0001 in.

By taking advantage of UTI's vast capabilities, says Gaffney, customers are able to cut development time, reduce costs, improve functionality, and make their programs less complicated to manage.

Boosting in-house capabilities

Stellar Technologies recently added coil winding, along with laser welding and cutting, to its capabilities.

In an ongoing campaign to provide customers with a total package of services, Stellar Technologies has introduced coil winding; laser marking, welding, and cutting; and cleanroom silicone overmolding and assembly to its capabilities.

The company's strategy is to develop numerous capabilities under one roof, rather than to serve the device industry from multiple locations, says Dennis Forcelle, director of new technologies. When Stellar identifies an industry need, it typically seeks to integrate the appropriate "capability and assemble a top-notch team by hiring an expert in the field and qualified technicians," says Forcelle. "This results in a cost advantage for the OEM. And because a single team is working on the project, it creates greater opportunities for innovation," he adds.

Certified to ISO 9001, the company manufactures precision components and assemblies for medical device applications. Its capabilities include multiaxis CNC machining; CNC wire and conventional EDM; laser cutting, marking, and welding; and wire coiling and forming. With expertise in the processing of platinum, precious metal alloys, niobium, titanium, and stainless steel, it can assist OEMs in the design, development, and production of assemblies and components. Silicone molding, wire coiling, and assembly are conducted in a Class 10,000 cleanroom.

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