Keep Up, Or Get Left Behind

Turner Medical Inc. is one of the few tier-I-level suppliers to the medical industry that can boast it manufactures FDA-approved surgical implants and the devices used to install them. Producing both implants and instrumentation is considered rare for non-OEM medical companies, but the shop that once specialized in tool and die work is now a recognized leader in medical manufacturing with upwards of $1.75-million worth of product shipped out of its facility on a monthly basis to customers nationwide.

Becoming a successful instrument and implant shop didn’t happen over night at Turner Medical. It took a great deal of time, effort, and commitment on the part of all of the shop’s 80 employees to attain ISO 13485 certification and gain FDA registration. But these achievements also hinged on the shop’s continuous forward thinking approach to manufacturing and, more specifically, machine tools.

As common practice, Turner Medical routinely sells its outdated machine tools to make room for the latest new technology. While many shops hang on to machines as long as possible, Turner Medical operates under the belief that manufacturing with old technology comes at a price.

“If a shop lags in regards to machine tool technology, it will get left behind in the medical industry. A shop can not compete working on outdated technology,” said Bill Turner, president of Turner Medical. “Those machines simply take up space and fall short when compared with the speed, cycle times and surface finish capabilities of newer equipment. Older technology may remain current longer in other industries, but not in the medical machining world.”

Turner Medical purchases a great deal of advanced machine tool technology from Mazak Corp. The shop’s 17 Mazak machines, acquired through Mazak distributor Pinnacle Machine Tools, provide the necessary complex machining capability, dependability, efficiency, precision, and, most importantly, speed that Turner Medical needs to remain competitive and cost effective.

“The future in medical machining is taking fast, light cuts at high spindle rpm to actually remove more material in less time than is possible running slower and taking heavier cuts. Any time we can bring in new machines, such as the Mazaks, and knock 40 percent off a part cycle time, we are taking cost out of that part,” explained Turner.

Some of the medical components Turner Medical manufactures include those for orthopedic surgery, specifically spinal devices and implants. It also supplies customers with various other implants such as rods, plates, and screws, as well as surgical products such as screwdrivers, mallets, cutting tools, bone pins, drill sleeves and guides, locking nuts, depth gauges, and removal instruments.

When the shop initially entered the medical sector, it manufactured mostly instruments, but that work came in waves. To fill the gaps between instrument jobs, Turner Medical added implants to its repertoire and boosted its working schedule from two 10-hour shifts Monday through Friday to around-the-clock production.

Cycle times vary from 2 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the part. Instruments may have shorter cycle times than implants, but can involve as many as 50 components at final assembly.

High machine tool spindle rpm lets Turner Medical increase metal removal speeds by maximizing feed rates for the extremely small tooling it uses for cutting intricate features in medical parts made from stainless steels and titaniums. The shop considers a 0.125-in-diameter end mill a big tool and routinely works with cutters as small as 0.040-in. in diameter.

Small tooling is used for machining parts such as spinal implants at Turner Medical. These implants are actually sets – two pieces that match up with each other. Each piece requires an extremely intricate tooth pattern for gripping the human spine. The shop machines the titanium implants complete on its Mazak INTEGREX i-150 Multi-Tasking machines featuring 12,000-rpm milling spindles and 5,000-rpm main spindles.

Mazak’s INTEGREX i-150 is a compact footprint Multi-Tasking machine that turns and mills small complex handheld parts. It eliminates the drawbacks typically associated with turn-mill-type machines, such as short axis strokes and restricted machining areas. The milling spindle on the machine moves in +/- 3.94-in. Y-axis strokes and provides Turner Medical with -10 to 190-degree B-axis movement in increments as small as 0.0001 degrees.

Part volumes differ between medical instruments and implants. An instrument job can involve lot sizes from 1 to 100 pieces, while implant jobs entail part families requiring hundreds of pieces each. The shop machines most of its implants on either its Swiss-style machines or on the Mazak INTEGREX i-150s.

Bill Turner saw the INTEGREX i-150 during a Mazak-hosted trip to Japan before the machine was available in the United States. He immediately realized it would benefit his operations.

The shop has two INTEGREX i-150s on its shop floor, arranged face-to-face in a cell that runs production 24/7. One operator oversees both machines that, for the most part, run unattended with 4-ft bar feeders supplying raw part material. The machines have a bar work capacity to 2.56-in. diameters.

“With the Mazak INTEGREX i-150s, we have increased machining speed and improved on tolerances. Their speed and accuracy are consistent, and they, along with our other Mazak machines, provide the flexibility to run either instruments or implants on the same machine,” said Turner.

Among its many Mazak machines, the shop also has three Mazak VARIAXIS 500-5X II 5-axis vertical machining centers and one VARIAXIS 630-5X II 5-axis vertical machining center, all of which provide done-in-one part capability through full simultaneous 5-axis machining. According to Turner, the more machining operations the shop can do on one machine, the better its part quality.

Turner Medical’s VARIAXIS 500-5X II machines sport 12,000-rpm spindles, while its VARIAXIS 630-5X II offers 18,000 rpm. Machine table sizes for the two models measure 500 mm x 400 mm and 630 mm x 500 mm, respectively. Both machine models feature tilting-rotary tables that tilt 150 degrees and rotate 360 degrees.

Compact spindle cartridges on the Mazak VARIAXIS line of machines make for better workpiece accessibility and minimize interference issues. Linear guides on all axes of the machine spindle heads not only reduce non-cutting time for Turner Medical, but also ensure the utmost accuracy for the shop’s high-feedrate machining.

“Our Mazak INTEGREX and VARIAXIS machines are able to machine the top surfaces, side surfaces, and any surfaces in between on our parts. This done-in-one capability is critical to us because we try to eliminate the need to move parts from one machine to another to reduce the risk of error,” said Turner.

Additionally, the Mazak machines help ease complex part programming because they allow Turner Medical to program using conversational or EIA modes. The shop has had to switch from conversational programming to programming machines completely off line with EIA due to part complexity and the fact that, nine times out of ten, customers send solid models instead of prints. Quality Delivered On Time

 

According to Charles Tucker, Turner Medical’s vice president of operations, medical customers want quality products delivered on time, and those customers are often more concerned about those two aspects than they are about price. To maintain a firm grip on quality and meeting delivery dates, Tucker said that the shop keeps all manufacturing operations in-house, except for anodizing and chroming.

“We must continuously control our processes. All of them, and not just machining, but order scheduling, part flow through the shop, and materials – logging everything we do,” said Tucker. “An order for 1,000 medical parts means we ship 1,000 perfect parts. One bad part, and it’s the end of Turner Medical’s business.”

On top of having to fulfill FDA requirements, Turner Medical must also abide by the specific guidelines of individual customers. These added specifications often restrict the shop in regards to changing part features or how they are machined. There is no leeway, and the shop just simply has to adapt its machining talents to the different materials and specifications that customers demand.

Practically all jobs at Turner Medical are due in 2 to 4 weeks – from instrument or implant inception to shipped part. The work changes often and quickly for the shop. It is not uncommon to have a job be practically ready to ship when the customer calls with an engineering change.

“This is the aspect of the medical industry that helps keep work from going offshore. Shops must be able to react quickly to product changes that happen on a daily basis, and that is tough to contend with from across an ocean,” commented Tucker. Moving to Medical

 

Turner Medical originated from Turner Machine, a small defense subcontractor shop that Bill Turner’s father, John Turner, started by working out of a garage behind his house. Turner Machine grew into a tool and die shop with about 15 employees and was a leading supplier of automated equipment for the automotive and appliance industries during the 1990s.

In 2001, a downturn in the economy sent most of Turner Machine’s work overseas and to Mexico. Turner and Tucker saw the writing on the wall and began laying the groundwork for the shop to transition into the medical industry.

By 2008, the shop was focusing exclusively on medical work, and its name changed to Turner Medical Inc. The new company has been successful through its expertise in various medical parts and its solid commitment to strict quality standards, on-time deliveries, open communication with customers, skilled personnel, and advanced manufacturing technology.

Attaining its ISO certification and FDA registration took Turner Medical about two years. These two accomplishments were necessary for the shop to expand further into the medical industry by taking on surgical implant work.

“The process was long and took great effort, mainly because the medical industry is quite a small and close knit group of manufacturers,” said Turner. “A shop can’t just one day declare itself a medical shop, it has to prove itself to be accepted.”

The first job that got Turner Medical in the door was producing tooling for a medical OEM. The shop built fixtures and in-process gauging for that customer, which progressively increased the work it sent over to Turner Medical. Through word of mouth, other medical manufacturers contacted the shop to have work done. The incoming jobs snowballed into the shop’s current manufacturing workload, which contains 60 percent medical instruments and 40 percent implants.

All of Turner Medical’s hard work and dedication did not go unnoticed. In 2010, the shop won the 2010 Alabama Small Manufacturer of the Year Award for its commitment to growing the company in the medical field and supplying customers with quality products delivered on time.

The shop was nominated by its local county chairman and had to document how it transitioned from a tool and die shop to a medical manufacturer for the Business Council of Alabama. Together with the Alabama Technology Network, the Business Council of Alabama presented the award to Turner Medical.


About Mazak Corporation

Mazak Corporation is a leader in the design and manufacture of productive machine tool solutions. Committed to being a partner to customers with innovative technology, its world-class facility in Florence, Kentucky, produces over 100 models of turning centers, Multi-Tasking machines and vertical machining centers, including 5- axis models. Continuously investing in manufacturing technology allows the Kentucky Mazak iSMART Factory™ to be the most advanced and efficient in the industry, providing high-quality and reliable products through its “Production-On-Demand” practice. Mazak maintains eight Technology Centers across North America to provide local hands-on applications, service and sales support to customers. For more information on Mazak's products and solutions, visit www.mazakusa.com or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.