Phillips Precision Medicraft: Family culture, advanced technology for medical manufacturing

Features - Cover Story

“When you’re a leader, that just means you’re the guy at the front of the rope, pulling along and setting the direction. It’s all the people behind you who are doing the work. The people here at Phillips are the ones who built our culture and they’re the ones who sustain it.” — John Phillips, President of Operations, Implant and Instrument Division, Phillips Precision Medicraft

John Phillips, Phillips Precision Medicraft’s (PPM) president of operations for the implant and instrumentation division (center) pictured alongside two PPM machinists and the company’s Traub TNL20-9 sliding-headstock lathe.

As John Phillips, president of operations, implant and instrument division, Phillips Precision Medicraft (PPM), walks through the manufacturing facility, he notices and questions everything, possessing a near encyclopedic knowledge of the company’s products, processes, and staff. He greets everyone he sees by name, often accompanied by a question. Why is a part that size being run on that machine? Is there a way to bring a secondary process closer to a machine? How is the tool life on a new job?

Detailed, enthusiastic answers to these questions demonstrate a strong testament to John’s engagement with the staff. But more impressive are the questions and suggestions employees proactively mention to him as he walks the shop floor, reinforcing their investment in driving the company’s efforts for constant improvement. It wasn’t always this way.

“I like to say when I started learning about lean methodologies, it was like getting a new pair of glasses,” John says. “All of a sudden all these things we were doing looked different to me and I wanted to jump in and change them. You start doing that and it’s going to upset people at first. People accept and adjust to change at different paces, so you get some people who are onboard early, but the majority are going to push back for a while.”

John would walk the floor with a pedometer, tracking the distance a part traveled on its path to completion and pointing out that it often had to be measured in miles. He spent days on the shop floor, working next to machine operators, asking questions and seeking their input. As employees realized their opinions and ideas could fuel the company’s success, they participated with a growing level of enthusiasm.

Advanced equipment

PPM further empowers staff by investing in new, advanced technology. If related cost savings and increased throughput can offset additional expense, then it’s deemed an improvement worth pursuing. This was the case with the purchase of a Traub TNL20-9 sliding-headstock lathe from Index.

In 2008, Jason Chomenko started as a sales engineer at Single Source Technologies, the distributor representing Index in New Jersey. Shortly thereafter he began calling on PPM, eventually earning their business for EDM consumables. As the company’s culture transformed, he began looking for applications where investment in advanced machine technology could further PPM’s goals. He noticed one such opportunity in late 2017.

A family of titanium bone screws were being run across Swiss machines with secondary milling operations performed on a machining center. With a total cycle time of 18 minutes, the parts had four machines at full capacity. In addition, the bone screws had to be transported between workstations and set up multiple times. Chomenko reached out to Index to evaluate the application.

“We often have the most success with projects where a customer is using not necessarily older machines but multiple, somewhat simple machines to generate a part,” says Tim Pottridge, Index regional sales representative. “That’s what we look for and that’s what Phillips had. I knew we could incorporate those processes into one machine and significantly impact the company’s manufacturing speed and output.”

Index identified the Traub TNL20-9 as the machine for the job. The sliding-headstock lathe provides simultaneous machining with up to three tools, high dynamics, 20mpm to 40mpm traverse rates, exceptional vibration damping, and high rigidity for optimal workpiece quality. Index completed a study on the part family and quoted a cycle time to PPM.

“They came back with a cycle time quote that was so low I didn’t believe them,” John says. “I’ve seen a lot of companies come back with these types of quotes that sound too good to be true and they pretty much always are. Index proved it out, showed the savings justified the investment, and that was it. They earned the sale.”

The TNL20 has two identical work spindles and two tool turrets, each with X-, Z-, and Y-axis, and can be equipped with a front- and back-working attachment.
Phillips Precision Medicraft (PPM) performs part cleaning next to the Traub TNL20-9.

Improved efficiency

Beyond cycle time, the new machine provided other immediate benefits. Four machines were freed up for other work. Two operators had been required previously and the new process only required one. Parts no longer had to move through the shop, sit in a queue, and have multiple setups. Additionally, PPM was notified that its customer was transitioning the family of bone screws from titanium to cobalt chrome. The rigidity and power of the machine enabled that change without sacrificing performance. For many shops, this combination of outcomes would be enough. For Phillips, it was only the beginning.

“The TNL machine is good enough that it’ll run through a 12ft bar without us having to open the door for anything,” John says. “So, we’ve got an operator there, but they’ve got a lot of free time. How do we get better from there? We start looking for secondary processes that can be done right there at the machine instead of having to be shipped off to a different department.”

PPM purchased additional equipment to perform inspection, deburring, and cleaning and placed it next to the TNL20-9. When screws leave the cell, they don’t require secondary operations, creating greater efficiency for the company and freeing up resources in other areas. Demand for the part family is rapidly increasing and PPM recently received its second TNL20-9. This level of investment in technology is happening throughout the company.

“For most of our growth over the past five years, we’ve sustained it by buying machines that can incorporate multiple processes to completely cut parts in one setup,” John says. “We’re just going to keep investing. We’re at capacity for floorspace, but when we can take out four or five machines and put in one machine to replace them, we’ve got a lot of growth potential without having to expand our footprint.”

The willingness to purchase advanced technology and reorder its operations has inspired and enthused PPM’s employees. Not only do they see the results of their suggestions, but they benefit from increasing and diversifying their skill sets.

“We love providing a good workplace and good jobs for our people,” John says. “We’ve got about 300 employees now. With spouses and kids, we’re touching more than 1,000 lives with an income and healthcare. That’s a beautiful thing and we’re doing it together.”

Index Corp.

Phillips Precision Medicraft