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Kevin Lichtenberg, Methods Machine Tools’ product manager for YASDA, offers machine and automation insights to address the challenges facing the medical device industry.

1. What are some of the challenges the medical device industry is facing currently?

I think the number one challenge pretty much any manufacturing industry is facing today is lack of machinists and the skilled labor to support production needs. I believe a close second would be overall cost of production. Generally, medical devices tend to be complex parts that call for a skilled machinist to be present during production to hold the tolerances required of these types of parts. The combination of production time and man hours can unexpectedly increase costs if the right machining solutions aren’t adopted from the start.

2. What are some recommendations to overcome these challenges?

Kevin Lichtenberg – Methods Yasda Product Manager

For me, it starts with automation – whether factory-installed or additive. Our skilled labor problem in the U.S. and in most of the world is only going to get worse in the coming years. It’s critical that shop owners strongly consider selecting machine tools offering built-in automation, or work with a solutions provider – such as Methods – that can reduce manual intervention, ultimately leading to minimally-staffed or unattended production. Getting one or two shifts of unmanned production for every shift of manned production will do wonders for your profitability, if parts coming off that machine after an unattended shift are good parts!

3. What machine attributes are important to make sure that optimal quality is reached?

Machine tool accuracy is the priority. Most machine shops have those few machinists they trust to handle their highest accuracy work, where they are trying to hold parts to one or two tenths or even down to microns. When it comes to unattended machining, you can’t rely on that skilled machinist to sneak up on tolerances because he or she isn’t there. You need a machine tool with the process stability to produce parts you know are going to be right so you’re not dealing with rework or scrapped parts. When it comes to automation, the more accurate the machine tool, the more you’ll be able to trust you have a stable process.

4. How accurate of a machine tool are we talking about to make sure automation is making you money rather than causing unexpected issues?

You can never be too accurate when it comes to machining. More accurate machine tools produce parts that cost less. Machine shops face excessive costs when they attempt to produce extremely tight-tolerance parts on machine tools barely capable of hitting required accuracies. Rework, multiple operations, lost production time due to off-machine inspection of idle machines – these all create hidden costs that negatively impact profitability.

So, when it comes to accuracy, machine shops may want to start at the top and explore what the highest accuracy machine tools available can do for the profitability of their business.

5. Who is at the top when it comes to accuracy, and why?

There’s no more accurate brand of machine tool than Yasda. Extremely well known in Japan (where many other builders use these machines in their own shops to produce their most demanding and critical parts,) Yasda’s customer base is growing rapidly here in the U.S. as more and more machine shops realize the increase in profitability that higher accuracy machine tools provide.

Yasda has machines with accuracy in the sub-micron levels. They also have models like the PX30i that incorporate built-in automation in a very affordable package. We’re talking about a 5-axis precision center with a 323-position tool changer, 33-position pallet changer, and all the coolant, probing, and production scheduling software necessary for running unattended shifts of production.

Imagine the capability of loading more than 30 individual billets of material and part programs on the PX30i and turning it loose for a weekend of labor-free profitability for your shop! Of course I’m partial to Yasda, but it truly is the brand for any machine shop owner looking to stay ahead of their competition.


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