Getting To Know Medical Machining


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Last month, at PMPA’s Management Update conference, I set out to find a few member companies that were taking advantage of the growing opportunities in medical machining work. This area of our industry is thriving, possibly more than any other, and many shops are starting to take the next step towards reaping the rewards.

Over breakfast one morning, I had a conversation with Bruce Carl of Bay Swiss Manufacturing (Dayton, Nevada). Bruce explained that his company had been involved in medical work for about 20 years, and he put me in contact with his son, Todd, company president, to get further details about company strategies.

At an evening reception, I spent some time with Greg Roberts, national sales manager for Roberts Automatic Products Inc. (Chanhassen, Minnesota). Greg’s company has been doing medical work for about 5 years, and he feels the work has fit in nicely to the high-precision, tight-tolerance production for which they were already known.

The involvement of these two companies in medical machining is representative of many others that are finding success in this business. Here, Todd and Greg offer some words of wisdom by reviewing what their company has done and the direction they are heading.

Todd Carl, Bay Swiss Mfg.:

PM: Please provide some background on your company’s involvement in medical machining.

TC: Bay Swiss is a family business. We have never had an outside sales force, so most of our customers come to us by word of mouth. The company is largely an aerospace manufacturer, but about 10 to 15 percent of our business is medical. When the company started 54 years ago, 99 percent of the work went through the Swiss screw machines.

PM: Do you feel the medical field is growing and is a hot market right now?

TC: It’s definitely there. We have not broken into the market as much as we would have liked to at this point, but it’s something that we’re actively pursuing.

PM: How did taking on medical work at your company affect your other applications?

TC: As an aerospace manufacturer, level of quality was not really an issue, but from a cosmetic standpoint, we made some adjustments. The medical industry is very persistent in the area of cosmetics and appearance.

PM: Would you recommend that other companies get into this type of work?

TC: Medical work has been good for our business. Our medical customers are long-term customers. It seems like a pretty stable industry, in contrast to the dips that the aerospace industry takes. There seems to be more stability in the medical field. Health care never goes away. Human health never changes. People get sick and need to be cared for. After September 11, 2001, we saw such a dip in the aerospace industry because people were afraid to fly. I don’t believe that the profit margins are as high for a job shop in medical as they would be in the aerospace industry, but with enough volume, it could be very lucrative.

Greg Roberts, Roberts Automatic Products:

PM: Please provide some background on your company’s involvement in medical work.

GR: Medical is about 5 to 10 percent of our business. Most of our medical work tends to be small-quantity items, as opposed to our automotive work, yet it is still quite complex.

PM: What were some of the influencing factors that drove your company toward medical work?

GR: We mainly considered the future of the business and where we could go for further growth. Medical is fairly recession-proof and is a hot market right now. Other work we do, such as plastic mold and hydraulics, can tend to slow in a bad economy.

PM: What types of medical work do you do?

GR: We’re currently not doing implantables. Most of our medical work is for surgical tools or plumbing in hospitals, such as the quick-connects in hospital rooms. We are growing our medical business and foresee that it will be a bigger percentage of our revenue in the future.

PM: What changes did you need to make?

GR: The medical parts we run are similar to our non-medical parts as far as tolerances and quality demands. Mainly, it’s been a cultural difference for the employees to take on the standards of medical machining. They need to accept the higher standards, allow for the added time and expenses and see that it’s worth the effort.

PM: Has the addition of medical work affected your other applications?

GR: For the most part it hasn’t. This work has been over and above what we were already doing, and we’re still learning what it will take to grow the business further. Other parts of our business have not yet had to change, since the medical parts we run fit in nicely with our current mix of tight-tolerance parts.