In manufacturing, the high rate of technological innovation is perpetually changing the way in which companies do business. Therefore, the principle “success comes to those who are keen enough to recognize an opportunity and industrious enough to take advantage of it” remains steadfast. Throughout its 85-year history, Lacey Manufacturing (Bridgeport, Connecticut) has applied this philosophy to its operations.
Originally started as a small tool and die shop, the company developed a process for manufacturing miniature bearing retainers in the 1960s. Later in that decade, the shop’s chief engineer spotted an article regarding the use of stapling devices in surgery and eventually partnered with the pioneering company. Business continued to grow as surgical processes advanced, and the technology became widely accepted.
Today, medical products account for 90 percent of Lacey’s business. This shift in focus has resulted in growth for the company, but it has also brought about unforeseen challenges.
“Sometimes a customer will give us a model, but more often it’s just a concept or idea,” explains Jack Dinsdale, manager of the company’s precision metal forming group. “We complete the engineering development through the prototype, then finish with the manufacturing of components and the final assembly of the products.”
Mr. Dinsdale points out that designing a product is only half the battle. Once in production, the process has to be cost-effective.
Despite the challenges, the company strives to improve the manufacturing process, while providing customers with price reductions. Realizing the need to improve maintenance of dies and molds, Lacey purchased a Form 20A ram EDM from Charmilles (Lincolnshire, Illinois).
When the company decided to upgrade its in-house wire EDM processes, its satisfaction with Charmilles led to the purchase of a Robofil 240. An ebb in the employment pool resulted in a temporary shortage of knowledge and experience in the area of EDM. "We basically had to start over from scratch," recalls Doug Dow, the toolroom supervisor. "Charmilles sent people out to help get us started, and some of our people attended the training program. We were up and running surprisingly fast."
The company says the machine's reliable self-threading capability allows for high levels of unattended operation. As with other areas of the medical industry, constructing surgical devices requires precision. Parts manufactured by the company include disposable devices used for cutting tissue, staples for rejoining tissue and clips for clamping blood vessels, all of which require extreme precision. The parts themselves must often be held to 0.001". The tolerances on the tooling created with the wire EDM machine must be held even tighter, often to 0.002".
"Our Robofil machine yields precise tooling components, and each spare part is exactly like the one made before it," Mr. Dinsdale explains.
Among other factors, Mr. Dinsdale attributes the company's growth to using Charmilles' machines. Today, the company employs 540 people and occupies a 150,000-square-foot facility. As it continues to grow, Lacey is considering adding another wire EDM to the toolroom, most likely a Charmilles Robofil 2030SI-TW.
Mr. Dow says, "This model is extremely attractive because of its twin wire capability. The precise nature of our work often requires very small wire diameter. The automated change between wire sizes would definitely help us even more with productivity."