Connecting machinery to computer and communications can boost productivity by offering insights into operations. Eric Fogg, co-founder and COO at software provider MachineMetrics identified these critical benefits in an interview with Today’s Medical Developments.
1. What are the risks when a company connects machine tools for monitoring?
Fogg: Connecting equipment for monitoring can present a security risk when not done correctly, however doing so securely does not have to be expensive. MachineMetrics has worked and consulted with information technology (IT) security experts to make sure our system is safe.
2. What are the benefits when connecting machine tools for monitoring; how does that outweigh the risks?
Fogg: Those that connect to machine monitoring are increasing production by making better decisions driven by data, enabling better, real-time communication between management and the shop floor.
3. What are some hesitations heard when considering implementation of a machine monitoring system?
Fogg: Security is usually the top concern. After that, customers worry if they are ready to handle all the data and if they have the time and staff to act on it.
4. What steps should a machine shop take in order to protect equipment it plans to monitor?
Fogg: Since we pull data directly from machine controls, and our system is cloud based, all computers in the plant are separate from the monitoring system. Though it’s good practice to keep up with updates, password protection, etc., it has no impact on the security of MachineMetrics. All a shop has to do is run network cables to each machine (wireless is available as well) and MachineMetrics takes it from there.
5. How do machine monitoring, dashboards and data transparency save money, increase competitiveness, and improve employee morale?
Fogg: The transparency of the system allows companies to acutely understand problems, bringing problems to the surface much quicker than before.
MachineMetrics increases machine utilization by 15% to 25% in most shops by allowing customers to understand how well their investments are working for them and where they should be investing further.
Employees can be approached about problems within minutes or hours of an event, not the end of the day or week when the problem is inflated. This turns the conversation between management and employees from frustrated or angry when a job is late to more helpful when the problem has just occurred and can be worked through for improvements.
With setup times varying by operator and shift, job changeovers are the biggest source of lost production time for a business. Using monitoring systems enables a business to track setup time by incorporating it into the workflow when dispatching jobs.
The software’s Operator View allows operators to start and stop jobs, categorize downtime, and reject parts for quality assurance. Operators also gain confidence that supervisors are going to address problems proactively and involve them in the process, and supervisors gain confidence that their employees are engaged.
6. What have machine tool companies responses been when job shop owners realize they don’t need to invest in more equipment once they have data and have learned how to improve production with current machines?
Fogg: Machine tool companies like machine monitoring software because they know that their customers’ success and profit is good for them in the long haul when equipment performs up to stated specifications or better.
7. What is the minimum improvement a shop can expect to see once implemented?
Fogg: We usually see a minimum of 10% increase in productivity as well as more confidence in quoting and capital expenditure decisions. Information such as cycle times, performance, number of parts produced, rejects, downtime reasons, and reject reasons can be collected for each part operation. This information allows managers to quickly identify issues related to specific operations and measure the effectiveness of process improvements.
8. How is MachineMetrics set apart from market competitors?
Fogg: We are focused on building simple software that focuses on providing a human context to data, something no one else is currently doing. In addition, by being cloud based, our software is dynamic with new features and updates weekly.
About the author: Elizabeth Engler Modic is editor of Today’s Medical Developments and can be reached at email@example.com.
Liquid silicone rubber (LSR) injection molding has been around for years. Its use has significantly expanded recently, especially in medical devices and wearable technology. LSR cures faster and offers properties not obtainable with traditional rubber materials, especially heat-resistance, extreme low-temperature flexibility, chemical resistance, biological inertness, and an intrinsic capacity for reducing friction. The material’s expanded use has resulted in the development of new LSR process equipment, especially technology that optimizes LSR injection molding machines to provide the greatest value and ease of use.
The basic raw material for silicone rubber is sand, or silicon dioxide. The material is processed into pure silicon. It is then reacted with methyl chloride, after which a range of processing steps create a variety of silicone types, including liquid.
LSR is a two-component reactive chemical with a thick, almost paste-like consistency, which has been compared to peanut butter. The two components are usually shipped in separate containers. Some medical-grade silicones are shipped in small disposable plastic cartridges. The two components are mixed in a 1:1 ratio to produce a reaction. Accelerated by heat, the two liquids then change to a rubber.
LSR injection molding is an inherently clean production process, because the component chemicals are sealed within a closed system. No ambient air contacts the parts until they are removed from the mold, eliminating issues with dust and moisture. This also improves part quality, because contaminants can diminish the cured rubber’s physical properties.
Medical, wearable benefits
Use of LSR is growing in both traditional rubber applications and those where traditional rubber materials had not previously been used. Key examples include medical devices, wearables, automotive, industrial, and even home goods (see sidebar).
Medical devices – LSR cures completely and quickly. This is especially critical when medical devices are placed in a patient’s body, because it means the device will not leach chemicals and cause potential adverse reactions. By contrast, latex, a material long used in the medical industry, does not fully cure during production, and can lead to adverse patient reactions.
Due to LSR’s chemical makeup, it does not degrade until heated to very high temperatures – much higher than most other polymers could tolerate. So LSR can handle sterilization processes, contributing to its effectiveness for medical and baby care uses.
A final (and critical) advantage is the ability to use LSRs to manufacture drug-eluting devices (DEDs). For example, hormones used in the NuvaRing contraceptive product are injected as an additive in the LSR dosing process. LSR DEDs can also be placed in pacemaker heart catheter leads, enabling the leads to introduce anti-inflammatory medication directly into heart tissue for improved results.
Wearable technology – Wearable fitness trackers, such as FitBit and Jawbone, are largely responsible for the expansion of the flexible wearables category. With its ability to handle both high and low temperatures, ultraviolet (UV), and ozone without degrading, LSR is a better fit than traditional materials for wearable technology used under constant sun exposure. Unlike other rubber, products manufactured with LSR are unlikely to cause adverse skin reactions when worn by users, even for extended periods of time.
Optimized production process
To achieve LSR’s benefits, injection molding machines must be optimized for value and ease of use.
While LSR equipment is similar in many ways to that used in the plastics industry, manufacturing LSR tools in the same manner as a plastic tool can lead to production failures. It is essential to use tool makers with a history of making LSR tooling. Also critical is working with an injection molding machine company that can assist with processing challenges, since successful LSR manufacturing requires that all components work properly together.
The most common pain points in LSR manufacturing are managing waste and controlling color changes and additives. Excess material is wasted because it is difficult to reclaim due to air bubbles, loss of certification, and a lack of lot tracking. Color changes can pose production down time, because extensive cleaning processes between colors can take as long as 4 to 6 hours. In addition, control of color or additives is a concern, especially controlling functional additives in the medical device industry.
Waste and increased additive control can be addressed through closed-loop control system technology. For example, Graco Fluid Automation F4 series systems use a dosing valve and a high-resolution flow meter to provide a closed-loop control for third- and fourth-stream additives, such as color and medications. The system monitors and adjusts to ensure the additive is being dispensed in the appropriate amount. If there is an out-of-tolerance condition, the system stops production.
Controlling the flow of the two primary material components in a closed-loop system allows the machine to react to changes in the material viscosity and the presence of air bubbles. Operators can vary the ratio to ensure the correct amount of material is used.
Closed-loop-control of two-component LSR dispense ratio is achieved by monitoring the material flow using high-resolution, helical gear-style flow meters. The helical gear uses multiple gear teeth to measure the flow in small increments. Flow meter data is fed back to the controller, which operates the valve to alter the flow of material to the flow meter, forming the closed loop.
The increased number of measurements provides more assurance that the machine is running on-ratio, and significantly reduces waste and rework caused by off-ratio dispensing.
The system offers a calibration routine that can be performed by the end user as necessary for a particular process, which also has a significant impact on product quality. The sample is collected and weighed, and resulting data is entered into the display module, calculating the current actual dispense ratio and calibrating the control system.
Other controls monitor processes to reliably manage the LSR system for its entire life cycle. The Graco Control Architecture (GCA), for example, provides longer life cycles than standard PLC products, and has a faster response time than other control architecture types.Overall, this helps manufacturers reduce waste, ensure proper additive introduction, and control the operation of LSR dispense systems for hassle-free production.
LSR at the leading edge
In a state of rapid expansion, LSR continues to offer new and improved materials to replace older technologies with longer-lasting, more effective solutions. Improvements to LSR physical properties for individual applications mean LSR will likely continue replacing traditional rubber materials in existing industries and possibly others. With the advanced dispense and production technology currently on the market, manufacturing of LSR products can be managed to minimize problems and take full advantage of this material’s wide-ranging potential.
About the author: Mike Pelletier, business development manager at Graco Inc., can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248.635.8817.
Uncertainty has become a defining characteristic of healthcare manufacturing.
Driving factors include the long back-and-forth in Washington regarding U.S. healthcare policy and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality. The consensus among our clients is less concern with the rules, or what they could become, and more of a desire to have them established without imminent risk of change.
If the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is repealed – after the healthcare industry has spent years adjusting to it – this uncertainty will put many healthcare operations on hold. Additionally, while new technologies are promising and ever- advancing, many are not yet proven, further contributing to doubt regarding what to put faith – and money – into.
How can medical device manufacturers adapt and prepare themselves when they don’t know what the future holds?
Medical device manufacturers can cope with uncertainty by evaluating operations strategies and leveraging finance options to improve cash flow.
Manufacturers remain under tremendous pressure to maintain current equipment and technology to stay competitive. As manufacturing equipment quickly becomes smarter and more automated, frequent machine updates are needed to keep up with demand and support company growth.
Medical devices are consistently implementing emerging technologies, which in turn require higher-precision equipment to produce. And software systems used for design and operations are becoming obsolete as more efficient alternatives enter the market.
As medical manufacturers weigh the need for new equipment and technology against the cost, the initial prospect can be daunting. However, financing gives an opportunity to keep equipment off their books, preserving capital for items that cannot be financed, such as research and development (R&D).
Medical device manufacturing companies spent an average of 7% of their revenue on R&D last year, higher than almost all other industries.
As capital investments get factored into a company’s bottom line, one way to cope is to alleviate other cost burdens. This is where a well-orchestrated lease or loan strategy comes in.
Companies can lease production equipment and software programs via operating leases, keeping the investments off of company balance sheet, spreading asset costs across several months, and preserving upfront capital for other endeavors.
An operating lease structure allows medical manufacturing companies to defer the decision of whether or not to own the equipment until the end of the lease. When the lease concludes, the company can either purchase the equipment at fair market value, or they can hand it back and upgrade to the latest technology.
This differs from the more common capital lease, which involves higher monthly payments, but ensures ownership at the end of the term.
Capital leases are practical for core manufacturing equipment that isn’t subject to technological obsolescence and has a useful life of at least 7-to-10 years. Operating leases are the better option for equipment that has a shorter lifespan or equipment subject to more rapid technological advances.
There are other financing options that many healthcare manufacturers could be using but are not.
Life cycle asset management (LCAM) is a strategy that combines hard costs (equipment or software cost) with soft costs such as installation, maintenance, and training and merges them all into one consistent monthly payment.
With LCAM, medical manufacturers have no obligation to keep obsolete equipment. The finance provider will handle disposal of the equipment at the end of the term, making way for newer, upgraded equipment or software.
Private label financingis especially helpful for small- to mid-sized manufacturers who are selling expensive devices to healthcare providers. By partnering with a finance company, the manufacturer can offer its devices with in-place financing – allowing them to sell a monthly payment to the customer, as opposed to trying to sell an expensive device. The lease or loan will be serviced and handled by the finance company, but everything is branded under the manufacturer’s company name.
Professionals in healthcare manufacturing should approach financial decisions with extra caution in the current climate of doubt. That said, uncertainty should not hold these companies back from growth and strong profitability.
By analyzing financing options and selecting strategies that preserve cash and ensure that equipment and software are always updated, medical manufacturers can preserve capital, maintain healthy balance sheets, and ultimately navigate the current climate of uncertainty with success.
Innovation is critical to the healthcare industry, and the pursuit of improvements through emerging technologies is the only way to stay competitive.
LLNL materials scientist Joe McKeown looks on as postdoc researcher Thomas Voisin examines a sample of 3D printed stainless steel. Photos by Kate Hunts/LLNL.
Marine grade stainless steel is valued for its performance under corrosive environments and for its high ductility – the ability to bend without breaking under stress – making it a preferred choice for medical implants, oil pipelines, welding, kitchen utensils, chemical equipment, engine parts, and nuclear waste storage. However, conventional techniques for strengthening this class of stainless steels typically comes at the expense of ductility.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) researchers, along with collaborators at Ames National Laboratory, Georgia Tech University, and Oregon State University, have achieved a breakthrough in 3D printing one of the most common forms of marine grade stainless steel – a low-carbon type called 316L – that promises an unparalleled combination of high-strength and high-ductility properties for the ubiquitous alloy. The research appears online Oct. 30, 2017, in the journal Nature Materials.
"In order to make all the components you're trying to print useful, you need to have this material property at least the same as those made by traditional metallurgy," says LLNL materials scientist and lead author Morris Wang. "We were able to 3D print real components in the lab with 316L stainless steel, and the material's performance was actually better than those made with the traditional approach. That's really a big jump. It makes additive manufacturing very attractive and fills a major gap."
Wang says the methodology could open the floodgates to widespread 3D printing of such stainless-steel components.
To successfully meet, and exceed, the necessary performance requirements for 316L stainless steel, researchers first had to overcome a major bottleneck limiting the potential for 3D printing high-quality metals, the porosity caused during the laser melting (or fusion) of metal powders that can cause parts to degrade and fracture easily. Researchers addressed this through a density optimization process involving experiments and computer modeling, and by manipulating the materials' underlying microstructure.
(Right) LLNL scientist Morris Wang (left) and postdoc researcher Thomas Voisin played key roles in a collaboration that successfully 3D printed one of the most common forms of marine grade stainless steel that promises to break through the strength-ductility tradeoff barrier.
"This microstructure we developed breaks the traditional strength-ductility tradeoff barrier," Wang notes. "For steel, you want to make it stronger, but you lose ductility essentially; you can't have both. But with 3D printing, we're able to move this boundary beyond the current tradeoff."
Using two different laser powder bed fusion machines, researchers printed thin plates of stainless steel 316L for mechanical testing. The laser melting technique inherently resulted in hierarchical cell-like structures that could be tuned to alter the mechanical properties, researchers said.
"The key was doing all the characterization and looking at the properties we were getting," says LLNL scientist Alex Hamza, who oversaw production of some additively manufactured components. "When you additively manufacture 316L it creates an interesting grain structure, sort of like a stained-glass window. The grains are not very small, but the cellular structures and other defects inside the grains that are commonly seen in welding seem to be controlling the properties. This was the discovery. We didn't set out to make something better than traditional manufacturing; it just worked out that way."
LLNL postdoc researcher Thomas Voisin, a key contributor to the paper, has performed extensive characterizations of 3D printed metals since joining the Lab in 2016. He believes the research could provide new insights on the structure-property relationship of additively manufactured materials.
"Deformation of metals is mainly controlled by how nanoscale defects move and interact in the microstructure," Voisin says. "Interestingly, we found that this cellular structure acts such as a filter, allowing some defects to move freely and thus provide the necessary ductility while blocking some others to provide the strength. Observing these mechanisms and understanding their complexity now allows us to think of new ways to control the mechanical properties of these 3D printed materials."
(Left) Researchers say the ability to 3D print marine grade, low-carbon stainless steel (316L) could have widespread implications for industries.
Wang notes the project benefitted from years of simulation, modeling and experimentation performed at the Lab in 3D printing of metals to understand the link between microstructure and mechanical properties. He called stainless steel a "surrogate material" system that could be used for other types of metals.
The eventual goal, he said, is to use high-performance computing to validate and predict future performance of stainless steel, using models to control the underlying microstructure and discover how to make high-performance steels, including the corrosion-resistance. Researchers will then look at employing a similar strategy with other lighter weight alloys that are more brittle and prone to cracking.
The work took several years and required the contributions of the Ames Lab, which did X-ray diffraction to understand material performance; Georgia Tech, which performed modeling to understand how the material could have high strength and high ductility, and Oregon State, which performed characterization and composition analysis.
Other LLNL contributors included Joe McKeown, Jianchao Ye, Nicholas Calta, Zan Li, Wen Chen, Tien Tran Roehling, Phil Depond and Ibo Matthews.
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