Jeff Haley, the Founder and CEO of C-Axis Inc., recognised the unique opportunity for contract manufacturing of medical devices in Puerto Rico and opened a plant there in 2003, just six years after starting his company in Hamel, Minnesota.  Since then, C-Axis’s Puerto Rican operation has grown to over 50 employees to serve a number of the leading medical device companies on the island, including Medtronic, Stryker, Johnson & Johnson and U.S. Surgical among others.

“Our biggest challenges include designing a machining process that meets our quality standards, proving out the processes before interrupting the machine’s production, and reducing our set-up times,” says Mr. Haley.  “Our PartMaker CAM software allows us to design and troubleshoot our processes off-line, on an inexpensive computer instead of on a very expensive machine tool.  We can examine and optimise the process prior to even starting the set-up.  When we load the programs and set up the machine, we are virtually ready to start production.”

“Without the software, we would not be able to do as much complex milling as we do,” says Jeff Geronsin, the plant’s CNC programmer.  “Even basic programming can be done with PartMaker in half the time that it used to take writing it manually.  For example, if we are milling out pockets and decide to change an end-mill size, PartMaker can do calculations in seconds which could take hours when programming manually.”

CNC Programmer Jeff Geronsin.“Medical parts require a level of perfection that is not seen on other types of device,” claimed Mr. Geronsin.  “The cosmetic look of the part is very important to customers.  As a result, we’ve had to do surface machining on our Swiss machines.  Without PartMaker, we’d have had to turn down those components.”

The geometric complexity of the medical parts is compounded by the complexity of the company’s multi-axis Swiss-type lathes.  Two of their Swiss machines, a Star ECAS 20 and ECAS-20T, require three simultaneous CNC programs to be written to support the machines’ numerous axes.  PartMaker lets the user quickly synchronize the machine’s numerous programmable axes to achieve the optimum cycle time.  Once the synchronization strategy has been set, the software displays a visual time study, showing the amount of time being spent on the main spindle, the amount of cycle time on the sub-spindle, and the overall cycle time incorporating any overlapping machining time.  The results are shown in the form of a histogram that clearly indicates where additional opportunities for time savings exist.  The software also produces accurate cycle times for use in quotations.

Once the process of developing tool paths and performing process synchronization is complete, the part can be simulated on screen in a vivid 3D simulation.  This detects any tool collisions or machine crashes.  With parts getting smaller and more complex, this visualisation capability is critical to the continued success at C-Axis.