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American Optisurgical Inc. (AOI) products help people have a clearer view of life and their surroundings. Herbert Cameron founded the company in 1992 for two reasons: He hoped to make a difference in the ophthalmic industry by providing customers with superior service while maintaining affordable costs. He also hoped to achieve a personal dream of owning a company in an industry he enjoys and one that helps people.
Under Mr. Cameron’s direction, the company has become a leader in the ophthalmic industry. Having achieved his initial goals, his vision for the com-pany has extended into designing and manufacturing medical devices while continuing to grow the business globally by providing superior service
The company, located in Lake Forest, Calif., makes ophthalmic instruments that allow surgeons to remove cataracts from people’s eyes. And with a new DMG Eco 310 V3 turning center, parts for these products can be produced with more productivity and less labor cost, in a lights-out environment.
According to the director of engineering, Tate Parham, the company’s key industry is developing, manufacturing and servicing equipment for cataract eye surgery. "Basically, the equipment that we make and sell is for Phacoemulsification machines. These machines are used for extracting a lens inside the eye (the cataract) by a doctor who removes the lens through electromechanical vibration.
"A Phaco tip that we make is the instrument that goes through an incision in an eye and vibrates anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 times per second, like a jack hammer, and emulsifies the lens," Mr. Parham says. "A hole in the center of the Phaco tip is how the lens material is extracted."
Along with producing equipment for eye care, the company also does some contract manufacturing. Mr. Parham says, "We do product development, and machine parts for different industries such as the aftermarket parts for radio controlled model cars, which is quite a stretch from medical devices. But we want to fill in time and keep our equipment busy."
AOI machines many types of materials including stainless steel, aluminum, plastic, titanium and brass. Production parts range from 0.140 inch in diameter to about an inch long to larger ones that rarely exceed 1 ½ inches to 2 inches in diameter and about 2 inches long.
Prior to its Eco turning center purchase, the company produced parts for its ophthalmic instruments and instrument care systems on a standard lathe and then moved to a multi-axis screw machine. Mr. Parham says, "We ended up buying a screw machine for servicing and repairing many of the manufacturers’ hand pieces used for cataract extraction—the instrument the doctor holds during surgery. Therefore, there are a lot of connector components that we make to refurbish these hand pieces. That’s why we bought a Swiss-type CNC screw machine. However, it didn’t quite fit us after several years. Quantities of pieces that we refurbished dropped off and our product focus changed."
Parts that were made on the lathe were then put on the mill for features such as wrench flats and cross holes, so there were several machining steps between these two machines. "I needed to increase productivity or increase capacity, and I didn’t want to buy two machines again after we decided to sell the screw machine," Mr. Parham says. "I didn’t want to buy another lathe and then still have to move parts between a mill and a lathe. So I looked at a machining center with a Y axis and even a subspindle, and again it was more complex than what we needed. I thought if I could just add a mill step with live tooling and mill a flat or cross hole or do shaft keys or any type of slotting or features like this on the part before it comes off the machine, it would increase productivity."
However, Mr. Parham realized that the company needed a machining center with turn-mill capabilities to do this work. So he sold the screw machine and began looking for a turn-mill machining center. He was looking for the most economical solution for a new machining center that would give him a quality product. He also needed automated equipment to do lights out production. If its parts bin could hold enough parts, then the machine could run 24 hours untended. But it depended on the material in the bar loader and how large the parts were for full automatic running.
Before Mr. Parham purchased the equipment, he was looking for a slant bed, cylindrical rolling guides, and 12 tools on the turret versus ten. He found all of these characteristics and more on the DMG Eco model. Also, he discovered the Siemens control is user friendly and the software’s graphics interface works well. The company can program parts at the control without having to purchase CAM software offline.
"This equipment was more economical than other similar machining centers. I considered other manufacturers, but DMG was able to work with me to put a great deal together," he says.
Productivity has increased with the new turning center, according to Mr. Parham. "I can’t compare apples with apples, because I haven’t had a machine with all these features before. What we were doing previously is running a lathe and then moving the parts to a mill to machine other features. We were doing two operations. On the lathe, we didn’t have a bar loader. So the operator had a puller that moves the material out, which allowed us to run somewhat automatically. But now I have an automatic bar loader, and it will run continuously throughout the day. I don’t need an operator standing in front of the lathe every 45 minutes to an hour changing a bar or taking parts and loading them into the mill. When the parts come off the machine, both mill and lathe work is complete. From a bar going in to a part coming out, there are a lot less man hours."
Part quality has also increased since AOI began to use the machine. "Anytime I take a part and have to re-fixture or re-chuck it, there’s always possible runout or tolerance stack-up errors and inaccuracy from holding the part. If I’m doing as much work as I can on the original bar of material, the more work I can do on it before I unclamp the bar, the more accurate the part will be," Mr. Parham explains.
The machine has six driven tools and six stationary ones. AOI tries to program parts using the tools that it has in the turrets. Tools for turning include roughing, finishing, grooving, threading and cutoff. "I always try to keep these tools the same," he continues. "The grooving tool might have a change on the width of the insert, but I try to keep these tools in the changer. Therefore, when I program the Eco, I try to program using these tools. This cuts the time spent switching over to other tooling for different parts. And you don’t have to buy different tools if you can use standard ones for many different parts." The company also believes that the machine is ergonomic, offering easy operation and user friendliness.
The company’s new turning center is helping reduce labor costs as well as increase part productivity and quality.